One of the best golfers in Canada hails from Chilliwack and is about to take on the planet.
Max McKenzie is the top-ranked nine year old in the country and has qualified for the U-S Kids World Golf Championship. He’ll travel to North Carolina near the end of July and tee off at the storied Pinehurst Resort, testing his game against foes from 50 different nations.
Max, full name Maxim, started playing golf at three years old and is already playing this prestigious event for a fourth time. He qualified June 10 with a tournament win in his own backyard, taking a two stroke victory in a one-round showdown at the Chilliwack Golf Club.
Only one spot for a Western Canadian golfer was available, with the Chilliwackian beating the best of the best from B.C. and Alberta.
Max’s favourite course is the CGC. Pinehurst is probably No. 2, although The Falls also gets some love.
“I like courses with trees and hills,” Max says. “And eagles. I like watching eagles.”
Pinehurst is well known to golf afficionados as the site of the 1999, 2005 and 2014 U-S Opens, all played on the famous No. 2 course.
Max will golf Pinehurst No. 1 this year after tackling three of Pinehurst’s nine courses in years previous.
If you picture Max and his nine year old opponents as an adorable bunch of little children hacking the ball down the course 25 yards at a time, know this.
He can probably out-play you.
The little guy who may or may not stand as tall as your armpit can bomb a ball 170 yards off the tee.
“Most people can’t hit it that far,” laughs CGC manager Bryan Ewart. “Not that far straight, anyways!”
Max has a hole-in-one on his resume and two hit-the-flag/came-up-an-inch-short misses. Get the kid near the green and he kills it with chips and putts.
“My golf game is pretty good,” he says. “I have a good short game and my driver is good.”
Max has gone around the Chilliwack Golf Club course in 68 strokes. Par is 72 and he usually shoots in the early to mid 70’s.
This tournament he’s going to? It’s not some ‘aren’t they cute?’ event. It’s a big deal because, believe it or not, these kids are already being scouted by collegiate programs.
“It’s a 10 (on a scale of 1-10),” Max says.
Aside from the height of the competitors, you’d be hard-pressed to tell it apart from a PGA Tour event, including the large galleries who follow these pint-sized golfers around. Max says the big crowds don’t bother him. In fact, he enjoys them.
“It’s cool when you hit a good shot to have people clapping and saying, ‘Good shot!’ and stuff like that,” Max says. “I don’t get nervous.”
If he does, he has a valuable resource at his side.
Dad Luke caddies for Max. A former junior/amateur star in his home province of Ontario, Luke is director of golf at Coquitlam’s Eaglequest course and the son of CGC member and former golf pro Larry McKenzie. He has lots of advice to offer.
“The best advice he’s given me is to keep a good attitude and have fun,” Max says. “If you hit a bad shot just don’t freak out.”
The two have a system of sorts worked out to calm frazzled nerves.
When Max takes a bad shot or looks shaky, he walks beside Luke on the way to the next hole and together they come up with a funny phrase.
“One is stinky underwear,” Max laughs.
“It takes his mind off the bad shot, they have a chuckle and then it’s on to the next shot,” his mom, Laurie, adds.
It’s a handy way to ease the tension in a tension-filled atmosphere. This is serious, serious business to many of these golfers.
“Some of the other kids are hopping around and doing their thing, but Max is in it to win it,” Laurie, says. “Not that he’s not having fun, but he’s not there to mess around.
“When he’s on the course, the little boy leaves and he turns into a little man. The moment he’s off the course he’s back to the little boy who wants an ice cream.”
Max could play more of these big events if he had unlimited financial resources.
He’s qualified to play tournaments in Italy and the United Kingdom, and had a chance to go to Torrey Pines in San Diego. But an annual trip to North Carolina stretches the McKenzie family financials, which is why they appreciate fundraising assistance from the Chilliwack Golf Club.
CGG hosted one fundraiser during its July 5 Men’s Night, offering members a chance to go head to head with Max in a ‘Beat the mini-Pro’ competition. There was a 50/50 draw and prizes available and roughly $1,200 was raised.
The CGG is hosting a second fundraiser this weekend at the Chilliwack Men’s Open tournament, with more prizes, another 50/50 draw and another chance to take on Max.
“We’ll do that at the dinner banquet on Saturday night,” Ewart said. “We’ll have a mat set up for Max to hit balls at a bullseye, and anybody who beats him ($10 to try) will get their name in a draw.”
The family departs July 28 and the U-S Kids World Championship runs through Aug. 3-5.
Anyone wishing to help Max out after this weekend can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 604-751-3085.