TAMPA — Her longtime passion for the game of golf coupled with her extraordinary level of perseverance has reaped an impressive payoff for the director of the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA's First Tee of Tampa Bay program.
Mackenzie Mack, 29, was recently voted in as a Class A member of the PGA of America, an achievement accomplished by only four other African American women in the 100-year history of the organization consisting of more than 28,000 golf professionals. What's more, a mere 1,193 of them are women.
Moreover, Mack represents a field of just 159 black PGA members who have gone through the rigors of attaining the prestigious membership. Among the requirements is participation in three levels of costly educational courses and seminars. Applicants also must pass a series of written exams, simulation tests and the PGA Playing Ability Test.
Kennie Sims, Tampa Bay Sports Authority vice president of golf operations who is responsible for Tampa's three city-owned golf courses where First Tee of Tampa Bay participants play under the tutelage of Mackenzie Mack, describes her as a "phenomenal" young woman.
"She's very outgoing and very caring and she works very hard," he said. "Her impact is truly felt nationwide by the fact that she is one of only five African American women to achieve such a status."
Sims also said she is probably one of the area's strongest advocates of the First Tee program. Mack said helping kids fuels her drive.
"Because I was a First Tee kid it's great to give back," said Mack, who also serves as the head coach of the USA Junior National Team in Tampa. "I love these kids and helping them reach their goals gives me a reason to want to get up every morning and go to work."
The PGA professional, who also holds membership in the LPGA, is a product of Las Vegas's First Tee program, a nationwide youth development organization meant to instill life-enhancing core values and promote healthy life choices through the game of golf. The program helped the Las Vegas native earn national recognition as a junior golfer and a scholarship to Indiana State University where she became the college's first black woman golfer before graduating magna cum laude.
Perseverance, like that demonstrated by Mckenzie Mack in pursuing her PGA status, is one of the program's nine core values. The others are honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, courtesy and judgment.
In her role as a First Tee's program director in the Tampa Bay area, she serves as both a teacher, a mentor and a role model.
Her work led to her being named among Golf Digest's 2015 Top African American Instructors in the Country, and in 2016 – 2017 one of the Best Young Teachers in America.
Anne Costello, the mother of Megan Pollenz, a former First Tee of Tampa Bay participant who is now in her second year of college, said continuing her education after high school wasn't on her daughter's radar until Mackenzie Mack made it her mission to convince Megan to apply to several post-secondary schools.
"She said, 'Let's put a letter together to send to colleges,' and she held Megan to a high standard. I truly credit Mack with Megan's collegiate success," said Costello, whose daughter attends Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
She was delighted but not overly surprised to learn Mackenzie Mack is now a member of the prestigious PGA organization.
"Mackenzie is amazing in every aspect of her life," Costello said. "She has the grace, the manners, the integrity and the respect that really makes a difference in hers and other people's lives. She easily represents First Tee's nine core values."
Contact Joyce McKenzie at [email protected]