GRAND BLANC, Mich. – The road to professional golf was not always easy for Willie Mack III.
In 2018, Mack was coming back from a tournament in Florida when his car blew up on the side of the road. The vehicle shut off and he pulled over to the side of a highway.
“All of a sudden, two cars came, screeched their tires in front of me to stop. Two guys started running toward me and said, ‘Your car’s on fire,’” Mack recalled. “I got out, I threw my clubs on the side of the road, probably went about 6-7 feet and it blew up. Kind of like in a movie.”
The near-death experience did not stop Mack from pursuing his dream of someday playing in the PGA Tour. His love for the game started early thanks to his father, Willie Mack Jr.
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“At 6 years old, me and him picked up the game. We would watch Tiger Woods on TV,” Mack said.
Mack wanted to be like professional golfer Tiger Woods, and he worked on his game at courses outside of Flint. He made the golf team at Grand Blanc High School and won the state title. Mack then moved on to win 11 collegiate tournaments as a student at Bethune-Cookman University.
In 2011, he became the first African American to win the Michigan Amateur Championship.
Then it was time to try and make the PGA Tour, but a lot more goes into it than good putts and long drives.
“Golf is expensive, so trying to pay $120,00 a year with no sponsors, for four or five years, it was up and down,” Mack said.
Things are looking up for the 32-year-old, who recently got a sponsor, two-year endorsement deal with Farmer’s Insurance and now a first shot to play at the 2021 Genesis Invitational courtesy of Woods.
“Being able to get the exemption in Charlie Sifford’s name is so exciting, and I can’t wait to tee it up,” Mack said.
Since 2009, the Charlie Sifford Memorial aExemption represents the advancement of diversity in the game of the golf. This year, Mack is a recipient of that exemption and will play in his first PGA Tour event.
Sifford inspired Woods and Woods inspired Mack. Now, Mack wants to inspire the next generation. He said representation matters -- something he noticed when he recently hosted a golf clinic with professional golfers Rickie Fowler and Billy Horschel.
“We all lined up, three lines, and for some reason, all the African American kids came to my line,” Mack said. “Just seeing somebody else playing golf and doing the things I’m doing, I think it inspires people to pick up the game. Even though I’m not on TV, there’s somebody out there trying to do the same thing.”
The Genesis Invitational will take place on Feb. 15-21.