ARDMORE, Pennsylvania -- Mackenzie Hughes is, by any standard, a tremendous golfer. He has a long list of accomplishments including winning the last two Canadian Amateurs.
This week, he's playing in the U.S. Open, his first major of what should be many.
And yet, he almost didn't make it here to Merion. Certainly there were a handful of breaks coupled with great play that got him into the field. He was an alternate after his local qualifying and made it into the sectional only after Jay Haas withdrew. He also had to go extra holes in order to secure his spot in this event.
That was tough, to be sure. But what almost derailed his Open chances was money.
In spite of being one of the top amateur golfers this country has produced in recent years, Hughes has struggled to raise funds to support his start as a pro. So when he got the call from the United States Golf Association telling him he had a spot in the sectional qualifier, Hughes had to do some juggling, trying to adjust arrangements he'd made to get to Victoria to play the first PGA Tour Canada stop. Not so much with the timetable, but with the bank account.
"I was still thinking about the cost as I was planning my trip [to the sectional in St. Louis]," Hughes admitted. "I was wondering how much it was going to cost me to change my flight, how much was the rental car going to cost."
After making his decision to turn professional, Hughes learned what many others before him have found: it's not easy to get financial support early in your career.
Hughes ended up trying an old method of raising dollars by selling shares in himself. Over the years, many pros have used this to launch their careers. He put up 25 tickets at $5,000 each but wasn't able to sell all of those.
So now he finds himself not exactly struggling, but definitely watching the bottom line at every stop.
"Whenever I'm travelling I'm looking for the cheapest hotel," Hughes admitted. "I still want to be comfortable, but I'm still trying to save where I can ... share rooms, get cheaper cars where I can, host families ... whenever I can save money I'll try."
Oh, and did you know that rental car companies charge an extra $25 a day if you're under 25? That rental car in St. Louis cost him $185 for two days.
It's just one of the things that Hughes is learning as he embarks on his new career.
"That's just the way it is right now," said Hughes. "I'm 22, I'm doing everything for the first time, renting a car for the first time, so I'm learning, but it's getting there."
This week at the Open, Hughes is living large. He was given a Lexus to drive and is gorging himself with the free food in the clubhouse. He also has his choice of new clubs from the folks in the PING truck.
"Ya, the car is nice," he smiled. "We don't get that on PGA Tour Canada or any of the other mini-tours.
"Players are treated like something else. It's not like a regular week, that's for sure."
Hughes might be a touch disappointed with the lack of support but he is not lamenting his place at the moment. He's focused on his game, knowing well that the quickest way to remedy his troubles is with low numbers.
Unfortunately, he's not alone. Find a young professional on PGA Tour Canada or a mini-tour somewhere and you'll find a golfer without much in the bank account.