Laid-back Jay Mackenzie secured a career-changing maiden victory on the ISPS Handa PGA Tour of Australasia at Kalgoorlie Golf Course yesterday, just a few months after a bout of the shanks threatened his future.
Mackenzie, 22, from Lennox Head on the north coast of New South Wales, shot an outstanding final-round 68 to pull away from Austin Bautista, with whom he shared the overnight lead, and win by two shots at 19-under par.
The victory secures his job for two years and, he admitted later, might coax him out of the old van he tends to sleep in when he plays on the eastern seaboard.
“I might not have to sleep in my car as much!” Mackenzie said afterwards when he was asked about the implications of the win. “I’ve got a job for another two years so it means a lot.”
A delightful bump-and run chip from 40 metres and a two-metre birdie putt at the 72nd hole sealed the deal for the man from Ballina Golf Club, after a double-bogey 5 at the par-3 17th hole had endangered his position.
With Bautista just a shot behind coming down the 18th and having a short birdie putt himself, Mackenzie buried the putt to secure a win that will give him two years’ exemption to play the Australasian Tour.
His previous wins in four years as a professional were pro-ams, but this time – in a virtual matchplay situation with Bautista – was another level.
The description ‘laconic’ does not do justice to Mackenzie, who carries a tattered bag with torn head covers.
“I felt pretty good,” he said. “I tried to laugh at everything and not worry about anything. It seems to work for me.”
The pair began the last round with a three-shot buffer and were never threatened at the top. It was just a matter of who would get the upper hand between them, and it was quite some battle. Bautista began the day firing with three early birdies and led by two after a bad drive cost Mackenzie a shot at the second. Then Mackenzie parried back with birdies at the sixth and seventh to take the lead, and it was Bautista who began to wobble.
At the ninth, Mackenzie made a remarkable par-save from the red dirt beside the green, and by the time he rolled in a birdie from two metres at the 14th, his lead was three strokes. Then the 17th, a long, tough par-3 arrived, and his tee shot bounced hard and off the back of the green, down a swale and leaving him with a tough shot.
His chip skated off the other side of the green, and by the time he tapped in for a double-bogey, his lead had been trimmed to one.
“I was fine,” he said about his mindset. “I still had a one-shot lead. I just had to play a good [last] hole and I was able to do that.”
Bautista, who also was seeking his first tour win, was three-under through four holes but ultimately shot a two-under par 70, missing his short birdie attempt at the last and watching an opportunity go begging, more generally. He finished at 17-under, a shot ahead of third-placed Kiwi Ryan Chisnall.
“He (Bautista) came out swinging,” said Mackenzie. “I holed a few good putts, heaps of good putts, actually. They just fell my way.”
The story of Mackenzie’s season is worth telling. He missed a string of cuts early, afflicted with the dreaded golf disease that makes the ball go sideways. “I was hitting shanks every third shot, hoselling it constantly, and I didn’t know what to do,” he said.
Then at the TPS Murray River event at Cobram Barooga, he made the cut on the number, and a corner was turned.
“Since then I’ve just felt like my game’s slowly getting out of having serious swing problems. I can’t even explain it. This week I hit everything pretty good. I don’t even know how.”
As for the van that is somewhat famous on the tour, it may be headed for early retirement. This week in Kalgoorlie, he stayed in a billet with some locals. He might even get a new bag, he said, and the van gets a little cold.
“I’ve got an old troop carrier,” he said. “I got that off my grandfather, and I think it’s done about 600,000 ‘kays’. It keeps ticking over and it saves me a lot of money. It’s pretty comfortable. It gets a little chilly sometimes.”
Mark it down as the day Jay Mackenzie came in from the cold. He even won the Road to Outback four-ball competition with his amateur playing partner Iain Koch.
The tour now moves to Perth for the Nexus Advisernet WA Open at Royal Fremantle starting on Thursday.