Tough at the top
THE number of Coffs Harbour golfers returning home from the United States to visit family and recharge the batteries continues to grow.
After a successful stint playing golf in the college system with Jacksonville State, 24-year-old Nick Mackay has been having a short break at home to refresh after making his first tentative steps into the world of professional golf.
While he might not be enjoying the limelight of the US PGA tour, Mackay is slowly building a name for himself on the Hooters tour although he is being given a very quick lesson on just how tight and competitive his career choice is.
"Basically the top guys on the mini tour and the Nationwide and the bottom of the PGA tour are all very similar," Mackay said during a recent session on the driving range.
"If you lined them all up on the range it's hard to tell who's who.
"It's the guys that play tournaments better that are the better players. The ones that get it around and shoot a 70 or 72 when they're not playing well."
The image of professional golf might be of fast times and big dollars but the myth couldn't be any further from the truth for Mackay.
Still playing Monday Qualifiers to get into a tournament, Mackay needs to pay a fee to enter the Monday round and if he plays well enough to get through to the tournament, he needs to pay another (and larger) entrance fee to play in the tournament.
A Monday Qualifier is a pressure day.
There are about 100 players vying for anywhere up to only seven available spots and proof of how tough it is can be seen when Mackay played as well as he could to shoot a 68, only to be beaten in a 13 man playoff for the last remaining spot.
So in Mackay's time on the professional circuit, who is the best player that he's been fortunate enough to play a round with?
"I got lucky when I got down to Argentina on a sponsor's invitation and played with Angel Cabrera and Eduardo Romero," he replied.
"Cabrera's pushing the top 10 in the world this year and it just happened that it was their home course, and one of the guys that I was staying with down there, that's his home course as well.
"We were walking down the ninth hole on our practice round and my friend Angel yelled out to Cabrera and said something in Spanish to him.
"He called us over and we got to play a practice round with them which was pretty awesome.
"Watching him hit it, he's unbelievable.
"He's one of the best ball strikers in the world so you get a pretty good idea of what level you've got to be at to be as good as he is."
As surreal an experience it was for Mackay to play with such a world-class player, that round isn't the main motivation that he uses on the circuit.
"The thing that inspired me the most was that I played so many of the big amateur events and stuff last year in the States and did well in a couple of them," he explained.
"Seeing all these guys my age doing well straight away, like a few of the Australian guys and you're sitting at home watching them on the TV and you start itching and going 'Man, I played with this guy six months ago or whatever and there making X amount of dollars already'.
"It's hard when they're already out there and I just haven't quite had the time and resources to do that because of finishing school and things like that."
The pro circuit has got tougher on the course but it's also changed off the course as well.
A lesson that Mackay learnt the hard way is that the tour is no longer the fun that the Jack Newton's used to have but it's more the focused and dour Tiger Woods approach that is the norm.
"It's changed the last few years," he explained.
"I kind of feel like I sabotaged myself a little bit in a couple of tournaments last year just because you know there's so many boys around and you're like 'Well we're off late tomorrow afternoon, let's go out'.
"So you go out and get on it during the week occasionally where a lot of guys won't do that anymore.
"It's just become so competitive that sometimes you can't.
"Most of the guys will let their hair down after the tournament, anything's game after the tournament's done.
"But during a tournament it's got to the stage where a lot of the guys might go out for a beer now and then but there won't be any big nights or anything like that prior to rounds and sort of waking up and going straight to the tee or anything.
"It's too hard to play well and you've got to beat too many people to do that these days."
While the battle is a difficult one for the Coffs Harbour member trying to make it big in the States, Mackay believes he's up for it although there's some tiny steps that he needs to achieve in the near future to help make his dreams become a reality.
"I'd love to have some sponsorship cemented which I've been trying to do over here and in the States," Mackay said.
"That's a huge part because if you can get that down then I can say right I'm going to play full-time on whatever tour next year and you can have a plan.
"I'd love to have that cemented and love to either have a shot at Q-school later in the year if I can get some money up for that or vice versa play in the Nationwide qualifiers or Hooters tour next year and just try and do that for the whole year and see how I do."