News & Opinion

Willie Mack III scores a bonus on PGA Tour

Willie Mack III
Just 1 week after being awarded an exemption into next month's Genesis Invitational, Willie Mack III gets another surprise: a spot in this week’s Farmers Insurance Open.

After Kamaiu Johnson WDs with COVID-19, Mack gets exemption for Torrey Pines and will debut a few weeks earlier on PGA Tour

When Willie Mack III got the call last week that he had been awarded an exemption into the Genesis Invitational, he immediately called his father. Tears were shed on both ends of the line. Mack, a touring pro who has struggling on various developmental tours for the past decade-plus, would be making his PGA Tour debut next month.

Now, the news becomes even better for Mack.

Mack still holds that spot in the Genesis Invitational, courtesy of Tiger Woods’ foundation and in honor of the late Charlie Sifford to honor a deserving minority golfer. But his PGA Tour debut has been accelerated. Mack was granted an exemption into this week’s Farmers Insurance Open when Kamaiu Johnson had to withdraw after testing positive for COVID-19. Mack and Johnson are sponsored by Farmers Insurance, a Los Angeles-based insurer.

“Getting that call from the Tiger Woods Foundation, it was a dream come true,” Mack said Wednesday at Torrey Pines, site of the Farmers Insurance Open. “After I got off the phone, I called my dad and he kind of, he started crying. Kind of made me tear up. But I'm excited to get going not only this week but at the Genesis also.”

Mack, 32, a native of Flint, Mich., started playing golf at age 6 with his father after being inspired by the arrival of Tiger Woods on the PGA Tour. Mack played college golf at Bethune-Cookman, a historically Black school in Daytona Beach, Fla. In his ninth year in professional golf, he says he is progressing toward his ultimate goal: status on the PGA Tour (video).

“I just never quit,” he said. “My parents always taught me, If you start something, you finish it. I just always had that mindset, and that mindset will always stick with me."

Mack signed a two-year sponsorship deal with Farmers Insurance in 2020, one year after he led the diversity-focused Advocates Pro Golf Association Tour in earnings, with $41,822.

He has played in only a handful of events on the PGA Tour’s developmental circuits, with one made cut in three starts on the Latinoamerica Tour and 0 for 1 on the Korn Ferry Tour.

At Torrey Pines, a San Diego municipal course that also will host the U.S. Open this year, Mack sees a dramatic difference in course conditioning compared with his usual stops in golf’s minor leagues.

“At one of the tournaments last year, I guess they didn't tell the [APGA] tour that they were aerating a week before or a couple days, so it was just like chipping,” he said. “Making those 2-footers, those become difficult when you have eight holes in the way.

“I'm just excited to get out here this week and play on some great greens.”

Mack will be paired with fellow Americans Tyler McCumber and Ryan Brehm at 10 a.m. PST Thursday off the No. 1 tee at Torrey Pines South (tee times). The North and South courses will be used for the first 36 holes, after which the low 65 players and ties will complete play on the weekend at the South Course.

Mack acknowledged that Johnson’s misfortune will motivate him this week.

“I'm friends with Kamaiu, so I talk to him all the time,” Mack said, “and I know he was so excited to play this week and I was cheering him on. I'm just going to go out there this week and not only play for me, but also play for him.

“I have two starts in two PGA Tour events in the next four weeks, and I'm just going to go out there and have fun and see what happens.”

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