Kirk Wessler: Where there's Will, there's a way
There’s only one guy on the PGA Tour who has done all of these things:
- Surfed Diamond Head off Hawaii.
- Flipped his kayak upside down in Class 5 whitewater.
- Heliboarded. (FYI, that’s where a helicopter drops you off on a mountain peak, miles above the nearest ski lift, and leaves you and your snowboard to get down without dying.)
- Lived for 30 days in an ice cave.
This is the same guy who has made 11 birdies and no bogeys in his last 24 holes at Deere Run, to take a two-stroke lead, 13 under par, midway through the John Deere Classic.
His name is Will MacKenzie.
"Who’s Will MacKenzie?" a spectator behind the fourth green wondered Friday, when the leaderboard flashed he had gone 11-under.
"I’m a Libra," MacKenzie says, and your eyebrows rise above the leaderboard now because when somebody — anybody — answers a question with his birth sign, you know the rest of the conversation could go rainbow. Fast.
And it does.
"I was trying to send some positive energy to my knee," MacKenzie says a little later, when asked about his eight-week hiatus after surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.
According to astrologists, Libras yearn for balance. So it’s no surprise that MacKenzie is seeing a golf psychologist. Actually ...
"I’ve talked to every psychologist out there," he says. "I like them all. They’re good. But it’s one of those things that it comes right in here (he swirls his palms over his head while whistling a sound like Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Lightsaber), sort of spins around and goes out that way (his hands float left, as if reaching for a galaxy, far, far away). Comes in one ear and goes right out the other."
The mind-probers must find him journal-worthy. A lot of them, MacKenzie says, "try to draw parallels with my former years, living in a van down by the river."
Yes, MacKenzie did that, too.
Once upon a time, back in North Carolina, he was a child prodigy. But he burned out on golf when he was 14. Summer was supposed to be vacation time. MacKenzie wanted to ski and fish. He wanted to play golf, too — but not every day, every week.
So he quit. By 17, he was on his own, living in a van on the beach. That was cool, but hot. So he drove to Montana. That was cool, too, but cold. MacKenzie traveled around the country and did whatever moved him. He climbed rocky cliffs, ran rapids, surfed, snowboarded. Picked up a dog in New Mexico while reading John Steinbeck’s "Travels with Charley" and named her Clovis, after the town in which he found the pup. Went to Alaska and spent time in an igloo, then decided 30 days in an ice cave would be a neat adventure. It was, until the thing started to melt, and he feared it might cave in on top of him.
More than 10 years passed, and then he watched the late Payne Stewart win the 1999 U.S. Open. MacKenzie just had to go hit some balls. Then he hit some more. Next thing, he was giving pro golf a shot. He debuted on the Tour in 2005.
Although MacKenzie won the Reno-Tahoe Open in 2006 and a million dollars in prize money last season, he is not a player most golf fans could pick out from the group on the practice green. He is best known by Tour followers for once having blabbed his hotel room number, live on the Golf Channel, and for reigniting the argument over who has the hottest wife in golf. He married swimsuit model Alli Spencer in February.
And here’s a shocker. MacKenzie has Attention Deficit Disorder.
But do not think any of this means he is a flake. MacKenzie is serious about golf. He respects the game and wants to be as good as possible. Like everyone else who sets off down a fairway, though, he fights the endless battle to focus on one stroke at a time. Forget the last shot, good or bad. Don’t think about the shot after this one, or the score he needs to maybe win this tournament and earn a seat on the corporate jet to the British Open next week.
Just play in the moment.
MacKenzie and his wife are expecting their first child, a son, next month. He believes being a husband and father-to-be are good for his career.
"I’m 33 years old," he says. "I mean, it’s time for me to frigging have some kids. I’m ready to hit batting practice and throw grounders, just hit nasty little bounces to my kid and watch him take it in the chest. I’ve lived my life. I’ve played hard. I’ve played real hard. It’s time."
Time to settle down. Which is not to say it’s time for him to approach life, or golf, in a conventional fashion.
"It’s nice to be even keel, it really is," MacKenzie says. "But that’s just ... I got no chance. I got no chance on that one."
Kirk Wessler is Peoria Journal Star executive sports editor/columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.