It's been a long wait for Mackenzie Hughes but in just a couple of weeks, he'll finally kick off his 2014 season on the Web.Com Tour. The former Canadian Amateur champion, who made his rookie year as a professional a memorable one, has had a long wait to get back on the course and after last season, he's anxious to play.
"It's funny that my season really ended in September," he said, noting the end of the PGA Tour Canada schedule. "That was so long ago and I've had so much time to think about it."
What's probably crossed his mind from time to time has been his great campaign of 2013, where he went from having no status and minimal financial backing to winning the Order of Merit on PGA Tour Canada, which gave him an exemption onto the Web.Com Tour. It was certainly a whirlwind season but one the product of Dundas, Ont., never doubted he could make.
After playing for Canada at the World Team Amateur Championship, Hughes turned pro, moved to Charlotte, N.C., and ventured out into the world of mini-tours.
"I don't like mini-tours so much," he chuckled. "You're not playing for a lot of money and it's definitely not glamourous."
However, that's about all Hughes had at that point. And he did learn a thing or two about life as a professional, which was a definite change from his amateur and college days.
"You have to learn on your own pretty quickly," he said. "You're really on your own."
One thing that didn't change, however, was his talent. It didn't take him long to parlay a couple of PGA Tour Canada starts into a regular gig. And, in June, after going through the qualifying and winning a playoff, he made it into the U.S. Open. Although he didn't make the cut at Merion, it was an eye-opening experience.
"It showed me that I'm not that far off, that I can play at that level," he stated. "And it helped me when I got back to PGA Tour Canada."
After missing the cut in his first three stops, Hughes rolled off four top-10 finishes in his next five events. That included a runner-up finish at the Wildfire Invitational and a victory at the Cape Breton Celtic Classic.
His success on the course also helped him off it. When he first turned pro, Hughes attempted to find sponsors, even coming up with a plan to sell shares of himself. That didn't work out and in the early going, things were tight.
This year, he's signed on with SportBox Entertainment Group, the new Canadian agency that's headed up by former IMGer Danny Fritz and includes as clients Mike Weir, Graham DeLaet and David Hearn.
He's found some stability with sponsorships from Ping and Freedom 55 Financial, but says he's a long way from being on easy street.
"It's better for sure, but at the same time, I'm going to spend a lot more money this year," Hughes pointed out. "I'll be paying for caddies, more travel, more of everything really. It adds up pretty quick. But if I play well, it's not an issue."
In addition to learning how to balance his chequebook, Hughes is learning the ropes of another new tour, this one a step up on the competitive scale. The long layoff has made it possible for him to glean lots of information about playing the Web.com Tour, but that has an upside and downside.
"I've talked to a million different people about it," Hughes said. "I've maybe got too much advice. I'm really just trying to figure out what's best for me."
He has sought out help from those who've gone before him and he's hoping to play practice rounds with fellow Canadians Roger Sloan and Adam Hadwin to not only learn about courses, but also life on tour. He will also likely join up with another Canadian rookie, Albin Choi to share expenses and experiences.
"I'm more excited than nervous," Hughes admitted. "I want to test my game against the next level and see where I am."
Hughes will get that opportunity when the Tour gets underway Feb. 13 in Bogota, Colombia.