PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — It’s probably difficult for Willie Mack III to count the times when he probably should have given up his pursuit of a big-time golf career.
There were plenty of moments that could have pushed him to put his clubs away and find something else to do for a living.
Living in his car for 18 months with all of his belongings and sleeping in hotel parking lots might have been impetus to quit.
So, too, might have been his car catching fire and eventually blowing up. That happened to Mack in 2018. Guess what he pulled out of the car with him before the vehicle blew up?
His golf clubs.
The rest of his possessions — wallet, clothes, his college national championship ring — went up in flames.
Why the golf clubs and not his wallet?
“At least if I had my clubs I could make a few bucks,’’ the 32-year-old Mack said Tuesday as he prepared for this week’s Genesis Invitational, which gave him a spot in the field as the recipient of this year’s Charlie Sifford exemption.
Without his golf clubs, Mack would be lost. He has been hustling with them his entire life, winning 65 tournaments on mini tours while sleeping in his Mustang for a lot of them about seven years ago.
“When I was sleeping in the car, I actually won the money list that year,’’ Mack said. “So, I was making some money. But you have to make a decision to either get a hotel and spend some extra money, or play in the next tournament, or eat. I still eat at the dollar menu at McDonald’s to this day. Yeah, it was rough.’’
When it was suggested that maybe he go back to using the Mustang for overnights since he was so successful when doing that, Mack said, “No, I’m going to let that Mustang stay wherever it’s at.’’
Golf, at its competitive core, is the ultimate sport of survival. This applies to all levels of the game, whether at its most elevated state, the PGA Tour, or at its lowest, most raw levels.
At the PGA Tour level, for example, Rickie Fowler has fallen out of the top 50 in the world rankings and is in jeopardy of missing the Masters for the first time since 2010.
Those are champagne problems Mack wishes he had.
When Mack was playing the mini tours, if he didn’t win one tournament, he might not have been able to afford paying the entry fee to the next one.
“He’s had to win to survive,’’ Ken Bentley, the CEO of the Advocate Professional Golf Association, the tour on which Mack plays, told Golf Channel. “It made him focus on winning, and that’s probably why he’s won so much.’’
A win or even a top-10 finish at this week’s Genesis would change Willie Mack’s life. A top 10 would get him into the next PGA Tour event. A win would get him a lot more than that — as farfetched as all of that is for a mini tour journeyman.
“You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t get the opportunity to show your skills and your game to the world, it’s kind of blah,’’ Mack said. “So, hopefully I can come out here this week … and play well.’’
Mack’s father, Willie Mack II, is the primary force that drove him to sleep in his car for those 18 months, keep trying to win tournaments that hand out winner’s checks that would barely cover dinner for two at Ruth’s Chris, and prevented him from quitting when most people with half of his drive would have turned their clubs in.
Willie Mack II, a mental health counselor for the state of Michigan, sacrificed financially for his son to pursue his dream.
“Just knowing that my dad gave all his money and his time to put into something that his son wanted to do,’’ Mack said.
Those words bring tears to his father’s eyes.
“It means the world to me when I hear him say those things, anytime I hear him talk about the sacrifices he knows that I’ve made for him,’’ Mack’s father told The Post by phone from home in Flint, Mich., on Tuesday. “But it’s not a sacrifice to me. As a parent, you want to give your kinds the best outcome they can have.’’
Collin Morikawa, the 2020 PGA Championship winner, played a practice round with Mack on Tuesday and called him “pretty inspirational’’ and “an amazing guy.’’
“I told him out there that we’re all here to win a tournament, and I could see it in his eyes he feels comfortable in this situation,’’ Morikawa said. “He birdied 10 and 11 out there with a breeze and you can see he’s got game. Hopefully, he has a great week and makes it all the way to Sunday and has a great finish to the tournament.”
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