SILVIS, Ill. — Two words — one name, actually — drew a wide smile Sunday from Alex Stewart that answered a question that hadn’t yet been asked. The mere mention of Willie Mack carries that kind of currency these days on the Advocates Professional Golf Association Tour, which will continue its race to the Lexus Cup with the schedule’s penultimate event, the APGATour Deere Run, Monday and Tuesday. The 36-hole tournament is being contested at the TPC Deere Run course where Mack scored his second PGA TOUR check in as many weeks just eight days ago at the John Deere Classic. It will serve as a prelude to the season-ending APGA Tour Championship Atlanta Aug. 9-10 at TPC Sugar Loaf in Duluth, Ga. Highlighted by a Friday round of 66, Mack finished 61st at the Deere. That followed a 71st place finish a week earlier at the Rocket Mortgage Classic near his hometown of Flint, Mich., which followed a T62 at the Korn Ferry TOUR’s BMW Charity Pro-Am June 10-13 in Greer, S.C. All three starts came via sponsor’s exemptions. The $31,143 Mack earned in those three events wouldn’t cover a third of the rental cost of the private jets Champion Golfer of the Year Collin Morikawa and many of the American players rode home from Sandwich, England, Sunday night. Yet, for Mack — who spent a year-and-a-half of his nine-year grind on various mini-tour circuits sleeping in his car — it represents a windfall. For Stewart and the 58 other contestants in the APGATour Deere Run, the example of Mack’s monthlong run of success at the game’s highest level is simply invaluable. Stewart is playing as an amateur on the APGA circuit while awaiting his senior season at Livingstone College in Greer, N.C. Like Mack and the other Black and minority golfers competing on the APGA circuit, the PGA TOUR is his goal. “It’s not a pipe dream anymore,” Stewart said of the possibility of making the step from the APGA to the TOUR. “It’s reality. I was at work at a golf course back home, sitting in an office following the John Deere, thinking, ‘Wow, Willie’s doing it.’ You see him make four birdies in nine holes and you think, ‘OK, maybe he’s ready to be on the TOUR.’ Two cuts back-to-back? How can he not be?” Prince Cunningham will make his first APGA start as a pro this week after concluding his collegiate career at Florida A&M in June. Mack’s recent success is inspiring. “It’s definitely an amazing thing he did,” he said. “Being a young golfer who just graduated from college it, gives you something to look at. If he did it, I can do it. It’s a hard dream, but it pays off if you stick with it.” The 32-year-old Mack knows his quest is far from finished, but he’s never been closer. He began working with Todd Anderson, director of instruction at the PGA TOUR’s Performance Center at TPC Sawgrass, earlier this year and will enter the three-stage Korn Ferry TOUR Qualifying Tournament in late August fortified by the opportunity, experience and success he has enjoyed this year. Emphasis on opportunity. Mack has felt equally ready at various junctures since turning pro after an 11-win career at Bethune Cookman University in 2012. In 2019, Mack was Player of the Year on the Florida Professional Golf Tour, and he will be seeking his fourth finish atop the APGA points standings next month in Atlanta. “Yes and no,” he said, when asked if race and economic stature impeded his pursuit of a PGA TOUR career. “I always say things work out how they’re supposed to. I’m glad I could get these opportunities now.” Creating opportunity is what the Advocates Professional Golf Association is about. It was launched in 2008 as non-profit headed by CEO Ken Bentley, who retired as vice president for community affairs and workforce diversity at Nestle USA in 2013. The APGA Tour debuted in 2010 as a two-tournament circuit offering a total of $40,000 in prize money. Today, the tour features 10 events offering more than $500,000 in total purses, and is supported by the PGA TOUR, the PGA of America, Farmers Insurance and Lexus, among others. Five TPC Network clubs — Deere Run, Sugar Loaf, along with TPC Louisiana, TPC Scottsdale and TPC Las Vegas — serve as tournament venues. A 27-hole event is staged on the Torrey Pines North Course on the Saturday of the Farmers Insurance Open, and Farmers Insurance this year signed Mack and fellow APGA Tour stalwart Kamaiu Johnson to multi-year sponsorship deals. Mack made his first PGA TOUR start at the Farmers in January, but did not make the cut. He also missed the cut at the Genesis Invitational three weeks later. Executive director Cole Smith said the opportunity to play APGA events on TOUR-caliber courses has grown the APGA’s profile, as well as player interest. “It is a unique experience for our guys. Membership requests are going through the roof,” he said. “We’ve come a long way and we’re excited about what the future holds for us.” More excited in the wake of Willie Mack’s summer run. “Hopefully that inspires some other players to go out and try to do the same,” said Mack. “There are a lot of talented people out here. Just getting those opportunities can definitely change some minds.” Certainly, Mack feels ready after years of chasing his dream.
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