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Sport Three years after a chance meeting with Billy Horschel, Willie Mack III comes full circle with Billy Ho Invitational win

03:23  01 august  2021
03:23  01 august  2021 Source:   golfweek.com

The long-running Harder Hall Women's Invitational is getting a new name and course rotation

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Kenyatta Ramsey still has the photo saved on his cell phone.

Billy Horschel standing in front of a building © Provided by Golfweek

It was from August 2, 2018, nearly three years ago to the day, that the PGA Tour invited eight members of the APGA Tour to TPC Sawgrass and a visit to the PGA Tour Academy, where director of golf Todd Anderson held court.

One of Anderson’s star pupils, Billy Horschel, happened to be there working on his game. Ramsey, who began as a member of the PGA Tour’s minority internship program in 2001 and has risen to senior director of Tournament Business Affairs for PGA Tour Champions, asked Horschel if he’d speak to the promising young golfers. Once he gets started, Horschel is tough to stop so it was approximately 30 minutes later that Horschel slid his right arm around the shoulder of Willie Mack III of Flint, Michigan. He and three others from that picture competed in the inaugural Billy Horschel APGA Tour Invitational, a 36-hole competition for an 18-man field at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.

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“Three years later, they are playing for $80,000 thanks to Billy,” Ramsey said. “It’s crazy.”

Billy Horschel et al. posing for the camera © Provided by Golfweek

Billy Horschel poses for a picture with eight APGA Tour members during a visit to PGA Tour Academy in 2018. (Photo courtesy, Kenyatta Ramsey)

Horschel says he’s got a memory like an elephant, but for some odd reason he had no recollection of this original meeting until Ramsey showed him the photo. But Mack remembers that first visit to TPC Sawgrass as a moment that changed the course of his professional career. That was the start of the PGA Tour investing in his future by arranging for Anderson to watch him hit balls.

“He said I have the game to play on the Tour,” Mack recalled. “He said I hit the ball just like them. That meant everything to me.”

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The soft-spoken Mack, 32, credited the work with Anderson, who has helped him stay on his left side a little longer, for the improvement in his overall consistency. As proof, he shot a pair of 69’s for a 36-hole total of 6-under 138 at the Pete Dye layout to win the tournament by four strokes over Troy Taylor II. (On a warm, breezy day, Mack birdied three of the first four holes to pull ahead but it was closer than the final score indicates as Taylor, a senior at Michigan State, went for broke at 18 and made a triple bogey.)

“I think Willie should be on the PGA Tour and it’s just a matter of time,” Horschel said. “From the minute I saw him hit balls with Todd Anderson I saw some things – he had the talent level, the ball striking level, everything in the sense of talent and athletic ability to be on the PGA Tour. Sometimes it just takes a coach or someone you meet that’s had the success to tell you that and give you that little extra confidence in yourself. I think Willie will be on the PGA Tour here in the next couple of years, there’s no doubt about it.”

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Of Horschel’s influence on him, Mack said, “It’s always good to have somebody like that in your corner.”

a man standing on top of a grass covered field © Provided by Golfweek

Billy Horschel congratulates Willie Mack III for winning his seventh career APGA Tour title. (Adam Schupak/Golfweek)

Horschel conceived the idea of launching an APGA Tour event – he already headlines an AJGA tournament – in February and his team pulled the first event together without a hitch. Horschel was reluctant to take too much credit, but the players and organizers noted how he returned from his summer home in Colorado a few days early to be here, helped set the pins and tees each day and spent nearly three hours on the range after the first round providing everything from swing tips to relaying life lessons as well as making a few donations on the putting green. He compared the tournament’s debut to a rock dropped in water.

“Greater things to come,” said Horschel of his hopes for the future of the event. “This is the first ripple in many ripples.”

Adrian Stills, the APGA’s director of player development, played on the PGA Tour for a year and in Mack he sees a player with “all the tools to succeed,” he said. “He just needed the reps and the support.”

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Mack’s latest victory – he’s won more than 65 times on the mini tours – was his seventh on the APGA Tour and earned him the biggest check of his career, $25,000. He also has played in four PGA Tour events this season, making two cuts as well as playing the weekend at one of his Korn Ferry Tour starts. The steep learning curve of missed cuts at the Farmers Insurance Open and Genesis Invitational have prepared him for the next step – Korn Ferry Tour Q-School this fall – and his confidence and comfort level in the heat of competition suggest he’s ready.

“I wasn’t even nervous at the PGA Tour events,” he said. “I was kind of nervous at 17 today but I think I got all my nerves out at Detroit.”

This is what Ken Bentley, a retired Nestle executive, and Stills envisioned when the APGA was founded 12 years ago to provide opportunities for minority golfers. Its strategic partnership with the Tour, which began in 2013, went next level this year when PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan made a 10-year, $100 million commitment to support nonprofit organizations that serve Blacks and other underrepresented and underserved populations.

“At his ‘State of the Tour,’ press conference last year, Jay said, ‘We don’t necessarily know what the solution is but we want to be part of it.’ We decided let’s lean in to what we’re already doing and that included APGA,” Ramsey said. “We’ve got a long way to go but we’re off to a great start.”

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Look no further than Kamaiu Johnson, who not that long ago didn’t know how he was going to pay his next entry fee. Now, his shirt alone was adorned with eight different sponsor logos, including Farmers Insurance on his shirt and Titleist on his right sleeve. More big-name sponsors who want to be part of the circuit’s success are joining too, including MasterCard.

“These guys got a lot of talent,” Horschel said, “and all they really need is a little bit of mentorship and some financial backing, and I think we’re going to see, hopefully in the next five, 10 years a lot more minorities out on the PGA Tour, which would be a great thing for the game of golf.”

Horschel wrapped up the award ceremony by confirming that all of this year’s sponsors of his event confirmed they’d be back to support a sequel the following year.

“I don’t want to see any of you back here next year,” he said. “Hopefully, you’re all on the Korn Ferry Tour.”

Even Willie Mack III smiled at the thought.

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