Willie Mack III has fine Genesis Invitational debut as Sam Burns takes lead
It was a great day for Willie Mack III.
Playing in his second PGA Tour event, Mack shot a one-under-par 70 at Riviera in the opening round Thursday of the Genesis Invitational.
That was the second-best debut for any golfer who received the tournament’s Charlie Sifford exemption, which every year since 2009 has been awarded to a golfer representing a minority background. The only player to surpass that was Harold Varner III, now an established tour pro who opened with a 69 in 2014.
Mack, 32, who was homeless for more than a year after college and lived out of his car, failed to make the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open three weeks ago, shooting 74-75 at Torrey Pines.
Although he has won 65 times on various mini-tours, his biggest purse was $37,000. The winner this week collects $1,674,000.
Asked if he’s just happy to be here, Mack said: “No, I’m not. I’m out here trying to win like everybody else. I tee it up just like everybody else, so why not come out here and try to win?”
Sam Burns shot a 64 to lead the field by two strokes at seven under, with Matthew Fitzpatrick and Max Homa tied for second.
Burns set the tone with an eagle on the par-five first hole.
“I think we were just pretty consistent throughout the round,” he said. “We knew we were going to have a tough stretch there to kind of start the back nine. I think just being patient out here. This golf course at times doesn’t offer you a lot of opportunities, so I think just with that mind-set going in we were just going to kind of take what we could get.”
Willie Mack, who was homeless as he tried to pursue his golf dream, will compete in his second PGA Tour event at the Genesis Invitational, which begins Thursday.
Among those who had forgettable days were playing partners Bryson DeChambeau at four over and Justin Thomas at six over.
Korea’s Tae Hoon Kim had a hole in one on the 168-yard 16th hole. He won a Genesis car with the shot — the third he has won in the past four months.
“The first car he got, first got two cars, he gave those to his parents,” his interpreter said. “He has not decided yet on the new one.”
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