Who is Will MacKenzie?

Updated: January 6, 2007, 1:03 AM ET
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

KAPALUA, Hawaii -- Nestled among the likes of Vijay Singh and Davis Love III and Adam Scott upon the leaderboard at the Mercedes-Benz Championship is a dude named Will MacKenzie, which should prompt one question from even the most ardent golf fanatics: Who the hell is Will MacKenzie?

Will MacKenzie is, in job title only, a golfer, though he may not like to admit it. "Man, I don't really like golf too much," he said after shooting a second-round 70 that left him one shot off the lead on Friday. "Game's too tough."

Didn't look too tough at last year's Reno-Tahoe Open, when he claimed his first career PGA Tour victory in only his second full season. That's the direct reason for his trip to Kapalua this week, but indirectly his success began some 18 years ago.

Will MacKenzie
Eric Risberg/AP PhotoMacKenzie shot a 3-under 70 on Friday.

It began because Will MacKenzie is an individual. At age 14, he went cold turkey on golf, quitting an intensive junior program in favor of other outdoor pursuits. Kayaking. Rock climbing. Heliboarding. When he was 19, MacKenzie moved to a small town in Montana, where he slept in his van for five years. At one point, he went 30 days in Alaska without showering. Lived in a cave. Got frostbite.

Then he watched Payne Stewart win the 1999 U.S. Open in his home state of North Carolina. "I started playing golf again. Did a little three-month little session in late '99, October, November, December to see if I sort of fell back in love with the game, which I did."

Will MacKenzie is a journeyman. After getting back into golf, he played the Canadian Tour, the Golden Bear Tour, the Hooters Tour and, finally, the Nationwide Tour, before making it through Qualifying School prior to the 2005 season.

And MacKenzie won on almost every tour he played. He may not have the pedigree of his peers, but that resume is pretty impressive.

Then again, outdoor sports still reign supreme. Will MacKenzie is a surfer. He looks and speaks the part of a modern-day Jeff Spicoli. But he admits he hasn't done much shredding lately, which is why he's taken it upon himself to get into "surfing shape" this week in Maui.

"I'm here to play golf, but I'm also here to catch a wave or two. I don't want to be out there chopping." After spending four straight afternoons in the Pacific, MacKenzie said, "I feel stronger in the water, like I can stay out there for an hour, hour and a half, paddle around and actually catch waves and drop into the right spot of the wave."

Will MacKenzie is a rube, at least when it comes to dealing with national media. In a post-round interview with The Golf Channel on Thursday, he made what he calls a "rookie mistake," revealing his room number for the week at the nearby Ritz-Carlton.

"I had quite a few calls," he said a day later. "Very inspiring calls. A lot of people that had seen me here or seen me there, plenty of people called me. Right when I got back to my hotel, my mailbox was full."

What callers found out is that Will MacKenzie is approachable. Before turning off the ringer on his phone, he actually fielded calls from some of those well-wishers.

"A lot of people were really cool about it," he said. "They called and said, 'Hey, Will, this is Jeff from Madison, Wisconsin. I saw your story on The Golf Channel, man, that was sweet. Keep it up.'

"I had one guy, it was a police officer in Wilmington, North Carolina, that got in a near fatal car accident, that said I inspired him a little bit to come back to his profession or something, which was phenomenal."

He's not all give, no take, though. Will MacKenzie is also a moocher. When asked what, other than golf, he has in common with second-round leader Singh, MacKenzie told the story of how he got his grub on during Friday's early weather delay.

"We both like pasta, [with] marinara, because I ate his second helping ... for lunch. He hooked me up. I was like, 'Where did you get that?' I think he specially ordered it. I'm like, 'Let me get that.' He's like, 'Go ahead.'"

Not that MacKenzie and Singh are too buddy-buddy off the course.

"I don't think he even knows my name," MacKenzie said. "He just calls me Bro. ... I was so bummed because [I've] wanted to play with that guy forever. Him and Tiger [Woods] and Phil [Mickelson]. You always want to play with the best guys out there."

Which leads to one last thing about MacKenzie. He's fun. A fresh new face for the fans, the PGA Tour and the game itself.

Who is Will MacKenzie? The best story in golf we've heard about in a long, long time.

Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.

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