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From HBCU to KFT, Willie Mack III's inspiring journey through professional golf

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Willie Mack III secured his Korn Ferry Tour card Monday in Savannah, Georgia, but his story begins at Bethune-Cookman in 2006.

Mack, a native of Flint, Michigan, headed to Florida and began his college career at the HBCU, setting in motion a golf career few could have predicted would still be thriving nearly two decades later.

Flourishing at a young age, Mack won 11 times in college before becoming the first African-American to win the Michigan Amateur Championship in 2011.

Willie Mack III locks up 8 starts at KFT Q-School

Willie Mack III locks up 8 starts at KFT Q-School

After capturing that championship and making history in the progress, Mack proceeded to spend the better part of the next decade bouncing around mini-tours across the country, even sleeping in his car for a year and a half while chasing his dream of making it to the PGA Tour.

Enter the APGA.

The Advocates Pro Golf Association Tour, established in 2010, was formed to give minorities better opportunities to play at the professional level.

In 2010, the APGA had a total purse of $40,000, minimal corporate sponsorship and held tournaments at two public courses. This year, there are 14 tournaments, totaling more than $500,000 in purses, each with a minimum $7,500 first-place prize and up to $25,000 for the winner.

APGA tournaments are now held at Tournament Players Club courses and PGA Tour venues such as TPC Sawgrass, TPC Scottsdale, TPC Deere Run, U.S. Open site Torrey Pines, and PGA Championship and Ryder Cup venue Valhalla. On board for corporate support are the PGA Tour, Lexus, MasterCard, Farmers Insurance and the PGA of America, offering not only competition but career development and mentoring resources.

Farmers Insurance is not only a supporter of the APGA, they’re also Mack’s largest sponsor.

Mack found success on the APGA, parlaying his dominance into his first PGA Tour start at the 2021 Farmers Insurance Open. The following month he teed it up in the Genesis Invitational after Tiger Woods named him the recipient of the Charlie Sifford Memorial Exemption. The exemption has been awarded since 2009 to a golfer who represents a minority background. 

For Willie Mack III to be seen, his story needs to be heard

Willie Mack III has been reticent to tell his story, but sometimes it takes more than just talent to create opportunities.

The increasingly-popular Mack would continue his great play on the APGA, adding to a win total that now eclipses 70 victories on various tours, while earning more starts on the Korn Ferry and PGA tours.

He’s made one cut on the Korn Ferry Tour and two on the PGA Tour, all coming in 2021, but he now finds himself with Korn Ferry Tour status for the first time and eight guaranteed starts by virtue of his finish this week at KFT Q-School Final Stage, which came with his brother, Alex, on the bag.

“It’s been a long road,” Mack said after his final-round, 5-under 66 Monday in Savannah, Georgia. “I’m glad I was able to put myself in position to be able to shoot a good round on the last day and move up the leaderboard. It’s been a long time coming. It’s special. To have my brother on the bag going through each stage has been pretty cool. Hopefully he can caddie more in some of the events and we can play well.”

It’s not just the help of his brother that has gotten Mack to this point; it’s also the unwavering support of his parents. His father, Willie Mack Jr., spoke with Golf Channel as Mack neared the conclusion of his final round.

“I’m very proud,” Mack Jr. said. “I’m proud. His mother is proud. He’s had a journey: sleeping in his car for a year and a half, putting my house in foreclosure – twice. And so you don’t mind doing those things for your child when they’re doing something positive. He was doing something very great for himself.”

Mack III wins APGA Tour Championship, POY

Willie Mack III ran off three early birdies to pull away and closed with an 8-under 64 on Tuesday for a six-shot victory.

There was a lot of positive Monday for Mack, who entered the final round in a tie for 41st. All players who advanced to KFT Q-School Final Stage had already earned conditional status, but only those finishing inside the top 40 would have guaranteed starts. The winner will have fully exempt status, with those finishing 2-10 being guaranteed starts in the first 12 events and those finishing 11-40 being guaranteed starts in the first eight events.

It was a tale of two nines for Mack in the final round, as he opened with a birdie and an eagle, finding himself 5 under par through seven holes.

Comfortably inside the top 40 after the hot start, all he needed to do was play was mistake-free golf coming home, and that’s exactly what he did. Two pars to close the front nine were followed by nine more to get Mack in the clubhouse at 7 under for the week, resulting in a T-12 finish.

“This is what Willie’s meant to do," Mack's brother, Alex, said after the final round. "This is what he was put on this earth to do, to play this game. We have some bad rounds, some bad tournaments, whatever. It doesn’t matter. When you look at the little chart and it goes down, it goes straight back up.”

Mack describing his journey as a “long road” is certainly an understatement, and the journey isn’t over, but he has a lot to be proud of as he’ll now be among those chasing PGA Tour cards in 2023.

His father gave a simple, yet eloquent, answer when asked about Mack’s perseverance to get from where he was a decade ago to where he is now:

“I’ve always told him, if you believe in something, your dreams, just never give up, and he hasn’t.”