No one has ever won back-to-back Players Championships at TPC Sawgrass, but it only took the first two editions of the APGA Tour’s Billy Horschel Invitational – also played at TPC Sawgrass – for someone to successfully defend his title.
That someone was Willie Mack III.
The 33-year-old Flint, Michigan native started the day in a three-way tie with Marcus Byrd and Wyatt Worthington. However, not bogeying until No. 11 – his first of the tournament – Mack took a four-stroke win over Byrd and finished 5-under 139.
“I love this course and it’s never easy to win against the competition here on the APGA Tour,” Mack told the Florida Times-Union after his victory Friday.
Mack, the reigning APGA Player of the Year, took home $40,000 of the $125,000 purse – the most on record for an APGA event as the tour continues to grow its sponsors.
Horschel, who brought in numerous sponsors by hosting the tournament, noted that Mack’s achievement is special.
“Every time you get the 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. “[Mack] played absolutely beautifully. I told him I better not see him here again because he’s going to start the day with a four stroke deficit.
Over the past few years, Mack and Horschel have formed a bond as the six-time PGA Tour winner has taken the initiative to help provide development opportunities for minority players.
“Billy and I have had a great relationship over the past two years,” 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 given to our tour and our guys opens up opportunities for all other players to get sponsorships and gain experience on a PGA Tour course like TPC Sawgrass.
Mack has a lot of experience in the professional game, but he always wants more. He’s made hundreds of mini-tour starts and has five PGA Tour starts under his belt with two cuts made. His last Tour start was in November at Mayakoba, where he missed the cut, but just before that, he was two shots short of taking stage two of Korn Ferry Tour qualifying.
However, with Horschel’s victory at the event, Mack secured a spot in the KFT’s BMW Charity Pro-Am in early June.
“Don’t get me wrong, the winner’s purse and check are amazing,” Mack said. “But Korn Ferry’s exemption means more than money. It’s an opportunity for me to come out and play well and work my way into this tour this year.
And maybe that’s the first step to Mack ever landing a spot on The Players and using his faith in TPC Sawgrass to his advantage.