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Hughes hoping for another strong fall season

Mackenzie Hughes Mackenzie Hughes - The Canadian Press

Golf at the highest level offers up a wide assortment of highs and lows. Just ask Mackenzie Hughes.

In 2020, he got up and down from a greenside bunker on the 72nd hole of the BMW Championship to grab the final spot in the Tour Championship, a finish that came with a bevy of rewards for the following season.

He felt the sting of being on the other side of the line this past September, finishing 51st in the FedEx St. Jude Championship in Memphis, Tenn. One spot better would have given him entry into all of next year’s Signature events, which carry limited fields and lucrative purses.

“The feeling of making the putt and making East Lake was pure elation, pure joy,” said Hughes of his 2020 success. “I like to get the job done, and then obviously going back to six weeks ago, finishing 51st, I mean pretty much the exact opposite of that – deflation.”

These ups and downs are part of professional golf and there are certainly more downs than ups over the course of a career. Players learn to accept them as they move on week after week, cherishing those few bright moments when they happen.

Hughes is over the finish in Memphis, taking the positives of his entire year rather than focusing on one week that left him on the outside looking in.

“It was unfortunate but by no means was it a failure of a season,” he reflected. “I didn't get exactly what I wanted, but tons of positives.”

The Dundas, Ont., product only has to look back one year to remember the best of feelings in golf. That was when he won the Sanderson Farms Championship to notch his second career PGA Tour victory. He’s back in Jackson, Miss., this week looking to defend the title he won in a playoff over Sepp Straka.

On Tuesday, he played nine holes at the Country Club of Jackson and said the memories of shots he hit in the win came flooding back.

“You don't have too many of those moments to look back on,” said Hughes. “Really, I've won the RSM [Championship] and I've won here, so it's really special when you have those places that you go back to, that you've claimed victory, and this one is no different. Every time I walk on this golf course now, I'm reminded of that. It's great to be back.”

Hughes is currently in a stretch of events that sit in somewhat of state of limbo, as the PGA Tour moves from a wrap-around to a calendar season. The new year, which used to start in the fall, will now begin in January. The seven tournaments that come after the Tour Championship – this week is the second in that stretch – only define the final position on the FedEx Cup standings for those golfers from 51 and on.

Hughes does have lots to play for, however, including a spot in two Signature events. That will come to him if he can stay inside the top 60. There is also the desire to head into the new campaign with some momentum, as he has done in the past. In addition to last year’s win, he’s, he’s logged four additional post-Labour Day, top-10, finishes over the last three seasons. His first PGA Tour victory at the RSM Classic, also came in the Fall of 2017.

“I love the fall,” said Hughes. “It has been great to me in the sense that when we had the wrap-around, I've typically gotten off to pretty fast starts and that's sets you up for a lot of different events and just the whole season.”

While the 32-year-old is focusing on the remaining tournaments of this stretch, he also has his eyes on next September. That’s when the Presidents Cup will be held in Montreal. Hughes desperately wants to be a part of the International team, which will be captained by Mike Weir.

He missed out last year when the event was in his adopted home town of Charlotte, N.C., not playing well enough to qualify or warrant a captain’s pick. He wants to correct that this time around and not only play in Canada but also for Weir.

Hughes has a long relationship Weir that goes back to 2004. As a 13-year-old he caddied in the pro-am at the RBC Canadian Open for a group that featured the Masters champion.

“I remember that day getting the draw sheet and thinking ‘Man I got Mike Weir. I'm caddying for a guy playing with Mike Weir.’ I thought, ‘This is going to be the opportunity of a lifetime.’”

He admitted to being a terrible caddie that day as he stayed closer to Weir than his assigned player, trying to soak in as much as he could. When the day was over, Hughes said he knew he wanted to become a professional golfer.

Not all of the days Hughes has circled on his 2024 calendar will be in the fall.

There is the chance to play for Canada at the Olympics in Paris in July, reprising his role from the last Games in Tokyo where he and Corey Conners wore the Maple Leaf.

And the RBC Canadian Open will be back in Hamilton, Ont., just a par 5 away from his hometown.

The coming year offers up plenty of chances for more of those positive moments. Hughes knows there will be some down times too, but as a professional golfer, the highs are what make getting through all the lows worth it.