It took Willie Mack III 29 holes to make a bogey at the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass this week.
Four holes later, he potentially faced a lot worse.
However, the 33-year-old veteran of the Advocates Professional Golf Association minimized the effect of driving into an unplayable lie at the par-4 15th hole and went on to play the final three holes at 1-under on Friday to win his second Billy Horschel APGA Invitational, his third APGA event on the First Coast and his 71st professional victory.
Mack (70) beat Marcus Byrd (74) by four shots at 5-under-par 139 and earned an APGA record first-place check of $40,000, from a total purse of $150,000. Joseph Stills (72) finished solo third and PGA club professional Wyatt Worthington (76) and Aaron Beverly (68, the low round of the tournament) tied for fourth at 1-over.
In addition to the prize money, Mack gets a sponsor invitation to the Korn Ferry Tour’s BMW Charity Pro-Am in June.
“Don’t get me wrong, the purse and the winner’s check are amazing,” he said. “But the Korn Ferry exemption means more than money. It’s an opportunity for me to go out and play well and work my way on to that tour this year.”
Mack has made two cuts on the PGA Tour playing on sponsor invitations, and he played on the weekend at last year’s BMW.
Mack was in a three-way tie with Byrd and Worthington to start the day and had a solid start, with birdies at Nos. 4 and 7 to take a four-shot lead through 10 holes.
But he made his first bogey of the week at the par-5 11th hole and Byrd birdied it to cut the lead to one shot. Mack rallied with a birdie at No. 12 but when his drive at the 15th hole went right and landed in a bush, the door was open for Byrd, a former Middle Tennessee player from Washington D.C.
However, Mack showed a veteran’s guile. He was unable to drop anywhere near the bush and instead had to drop back and take line-of-sight relief. He hit his third shot into the left bunker and blasted out to a pin cut tight to the trap.
Mack drained the putt, allowing himself a brief fist pump, and Byrd failed to get up-and-down from the left side to leave the margin at three shots.
The two traded birdies at No. 16 and pars at No. 17 but Mack sealed the deal when he hit a hybrid stinger off the 18th tee that split the fairway, and Byrd tugged his tee shot into the water. Mack reached the green and two-putted for par, while Byrd made a bogey putt to hold onto solo second.
Mack said he got the idea of what to hit off the 18th tee with the tournament in balance by watching Justin Thomas hit a similar shot with a 5-wood in the final round of the 2021 Players Championship.
“I enjoy this course and it is never easy winning against the competition out here on the APGA Tour,” Mack said.
Tournament host Billy Horschel of Ponte Vedra Beach, a six-time PGA Tour winner, said winning twice at the Stadium Course, under any format or conditions of competition, is no small feat.
“Any time you get a chance to play here is one thing, but to say you’re a champion at TPC Sawgrass is special, now that he’s done it twice,” Horschel said of Mack. “He played absolutely beautifully. I told him I better not see him here again because he’s going to start the day with a four-shot deficit.”
Mack said Horschel has been a mentor to him since Horschel and the PGA Tour began their involvement with the APGA, which provides playing opportunities to minority golfers.
“Billy and I have had a great relationship over the last year or two,” Mack said. “Personally, it means a lot to be able to count on him for advice. I think his name on this event and the support he has shown our Tour and our guys opens up opportunities for all the other players to get sponsorships and gain experience on a PGA Tour course like TPC Sawgrass.”