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April 2021

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By: Steve Eubanks

Mackenzie Mack Is Setting A New Standard For The Game

Don’t be surprised by the firsts. Mackenzie Mack won’t top leaderboards at tour events - although she compiled a pretty impressive junior and collegiate record and can still hold her own on the course - but she will probably be the first Black woman to run a major golf company or national golf industry association. And that day is coming sooner rather than later. 

The 33-year-old is one of only four Black women to hold dual LPGA Professional and PGA of America Class A memberships. And she has already been inducted into the African American Golfers Hall of Fame. She was named an LPGA National Junior Golf Leader of the Year; was recognized as a Golf Digest “Top Young Teacher” five years in a row; ran one of the most successful First Tee operations in the country; founded a non-profit called Tee It Up to grow the game in underserved communities; was a site director for LPGA*USGA Girls Golf; was Tournament Director for the U.S. Kids Golf Tour; and served as the associate executive director/regional director of the Tennessee Golf Foundation, programming junior golf throughout all of western Tennessee.

Now she is on the executive fast track.

In October, Mack became the first person selected to enter the Leadership Rotational Program at Callaway Golf, an initiative that identifies the best and brightest in the golf industry and cross-trains them in all disciplines within the ever-broadening Callaway Golf universe.

"Mackenzie brings so many outstanding qualities to our Company - she's smart, talented, collaborative, and she is passionate about the game. We created our Leadership Rotational Program so that we can work with great people in the golf industry like Mackenzie, and help provide them with a wide range of leadership skills and opportunities. We're excited to see where this program takes her at Callaway," said Chip Brewer, Callaway Golf President & CEO.

“I moved to Callaway corporate (in Carlsbad, Calif.) as part of the Leadership Rotational Program to learn from an innovative, industry-leading organization and to help cultivate the next generation of  champions,” Mack said. “Right now, I’m completing my first rotation in marketing, then I’ll eventually move to other departments of the company such as finance and sales, allowing me to get a high-level view of various areas of the company. After completing the two-year rotational program, the goal will be to obtain placement in a leadership role in the company.” 

On the surface, this sounds like a straight-line career track for a smart and ambitious professional, a kind of paint-by-numbers Ivy League life. But that isn’t Mackenzie Mack’s story. In fact, her experiences in the game can best be summarized by the lessons she taught her junior students. “Keep pressing ahead,” she has always emphasized to eager youngsters. “Keep moving forward. Keep getting better. Keep moving the ball down the fairway.”

That is the mantra that makes Mackenzie Mack a name to remember.  “I started playing golf when I was about seven years old,” Mack said. “My mom put my sister and me in just about every sport she could think of. We were busy all the time. She put us in gymnastics and, one day, as we were in (gymnastics) class, my mom sat next to the local head pro’s wife who suggested that we try golf. My gymnastics skills weren’t all that  great, so my Mom took us down to the Las Vegas Municipal Golf Club and we started taking lessons as a family.” 

At first, golf was just another one of Mack’s many youth activities. Despite being pretty good, she didn't develop a true love of the game until she played in her first competitive event, which also happened to be the first round she ever played. After that, she was hooked.

“From there, I played all throughout high school and college at Indiana State,” she said, giving a modest thumbnail of a remarkable junior and amateur career. She was named to the Golfweek Top 100 Junior Golfers two years in a row and  excelled at the AJGA level, despite being one of the few Black girls in the game. And she was the first Black woman golfer in the history of Indiana State University to earn an athletic scholarship.
In addition to competing on the team’s squad for four years, Mack also received her B.S in Business with a minor in Spanish and an MBA. During that time, she co-created Tee It Up, a golf mentorship program, in an effort to bring golf to a wider and more diverse group of youngsters. The program’s pinnacle was being awarded a $10,000 grant to teach golf summer camps to children living on military bases in Europe.

After grad school, she tried playing professionally for a spell, which led her to relocate to Tampa, Fla., where she eventually took a job with First Tee of Tampa Bay. Again, all of that might sound straightforward, but it was not. 

While competing  in a high school golf match in her hometown of Las Vegas, a fellow competitor actually refused to play with Mack because she was Black, not in the segregated 1950s or the tumultuous 1960s, the era of Civil Rights, but in the 21st century. The incident, while not the first of its kind, was the most significant because it led to a coach’s conference that went on for more than an hour, during which time Mack was left standing nearby, staying loose and warm and processing a range of high-school-girl emotions that no one should ever have to feel – bewilderment, embarrassment, anger. By the time the meeting ended, she had settled on resolve. Mack let her play on the course and her actions off of it do the talking.

She “killed” her critics with a warmhearted demeanor, an infectious smile, and a determination that anyone who has met her recognizes right away. Growing up, she realized that she was fielding more suspicious questions about drops she was taking in competition or how she played certain shots. Rather than become bitter and offended, Mack forced herself to become a rules expert at a young age. She soon became the junior others sought out to answer rules questions, not the one anyone suspected of breaking them.

She was also stopped at tournaments more often than she can remember and asked if she was lost or a member of the grounds crew. The discrimination was subtle. Other than the one major high school incident, no one was overtly racist. But Mack understood the uneven lie she had drawn. And she understood that there were two ways to go: She could become angry, sullen and hard. Or she could go the other way, proving to others that she could win with a smile and an attitude that transcended race, gender, age or background. She chose the latter. And it has made all the difference.

“Speak through your actions,” she said. “You have to persevere through the hurtful and disappointing actions of haters, naysayers and even some friends. Golf is a great sport for that.

“I’ve always been into helping young people,” Mack said. “My mom was an elementary school principal. Throughout college I helped her with her students. If you’d asked my family and friends, they would have said, ‘We knew you were going to be an educator and a teacher, but we also knew you were meant to change the game of golf.’

“But golf is expensive, especially at the elite level,” she said, acknowledging some of the challenges of bringing the game to underserved communities. “Chapters of the First Tee where I’ve been, we’ve always found a way to help the students that these programs are designed to help. We would never exclude an interested student or family for financial reasons. If a student wanted to pursue the game, we made sure that student got the chance and we let it be known that First Tee was the place.”

Now she is seeing the game from an entirely different perspective at one of the game’s leading manufacturers, a company that just acquired TopGolf, making it one of the mega-brands in the industry.  
  
“It’s certainly been a rollercoaster ride,” Mack said. “It’s great to see golf from this perspective. I’ve seen it from a lot of different angles – from elite competitive golfer, to operations intern at a traditional green-grass facility like Innisbrook, to coach and youth program director – but this is one that I’m really excited about. To see new product launches, the intricacies of supply chain management, marketing, sales and retail…this allows me to see how and where big decisions in the industry are made. I have a front-row seat at one of the game’s biggest influencers. It has been really fun and an incredible opportunity so far.

“As an industry, we’ve seen an uptick in sales and rounds because golf has been deemed a fun, socially distant activity that can be performed safely in the midst of a global pandemic. But the important thing, now that we have brought all these new people into the game, is to do whatever it takes to keep those people in the game, especially at green-grass facilities. We have to change our mindset. That means being more welcoming, accepting, tolerant and inclusive.

“Now that people are in the game, they realize that it’s fun and addictive. The hard part has always been getting people into golf, especially kids who looked at it and didn’t want any part of it. But once you get people into the game, it’s hard to keep them out.” 

Carlsbad is a new environment, one that Mack is embracing with the same aplomb she has at every point in her life. “There are a lot more vegetables in California than there are in Memphis,” she said with a laugh. “Not having trouble getting a salad.”  

Then she paused and said, “I’m so happy to be in this fun, crazy, cutting-edge, innovative environment at Callaway Golf as an ambassador for women, people of color and teaching professionals. I keep trying to learn as much as possible, bring as many people into the game as possible and love the game as much as possible. 

“I just want to see us all continue moving the ball down the fairway.” 

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