BILLY McKenzie goes into his first test as a professional golfer at this week’s first stage of the European Tour Qualifying School, having found some form in his final two amateur events.
The winner of two top amateur championships in the Tillman (2016) and Berkshire Trophy (2015) tees it up at Portugal’s Bom Sucesso course, in Óbidos, on Wednesday (October 9)
The former Lord Admiral Nelson schoolboy will need a finish in the top 15 after 72 holes are completed on Saturday, to be sure of a place in the second stage in Spain next month.
After a disappointing final season as an amateur in terms of national championships, the left-hander produced back-to-back wins at county level last month.
McKenzie won the Courage Trophy – the county’s premier 36-hole strokeplay event – at his favourite Blackmoor course at the end of August.
And two weeks later he won the County Foursomes for a fourth time in nine years, and for a second time playing with Hampshire team-mate Tom Robson, who is also the assistant secretary at Rowlands Castle where Billy is a member.
It is some 18 months since the 24-year-old won the Spanish Amateur Championship – beating Alex Fitzpatrick, the younger brother of Ryder Cup player Matt Fitzpatrick, who went on to play in last month’s Walker Cup clash with the Americans at Royal Liverpool, in the final at La Manga.
In December, McKenzie was invited to Hoylake with Fitzpatrick and several other leading Great Britian and Ireland players that captain Craig Watson was considering for his squad to try to regain the Walker Cup.
Billy also travelled to Chile to represent England in the South American Amateur Championship in January.
His globetrotting saw the Williams Woods University graduate finish 11th in the African Amateur Strokeplay at Leopard Creek, in February.
While in the Southern Hemisphere, McKenzie was named Havant Borough Sportsperson of the Year – following in the footsteps of Hayling’s Darren Walkley and Waterlooville’s Scott Gregory.
McKenzie then came 33rd in the South African Amateur Championship in early March, followed by a tie for 27th at the South African Strokeplay.
Having set a college record of 13 wins in four years in Missouri, from 2013-17, McKenzie has been a frequent visitor to the winner’s circle since heading to the States.
But despite being named in the full England squad in February this year, his results did not match the consistency that saw him nominated for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ Jack Nicklaus Award three years in a row, as well as being ranked in the NAIA’s top five golfers regularly while in America.
The two-time AMC Conference Player of the Year missed the cut in both the Lytham and St Andrews Links Trophies, which could have moved him into contention for a Walker Cup place.
But not even a thumping 6&5 win over fellow England squad member David Langley in the Amateur Championship at Portmarnock, in June, could reignite his last season before joining the pro ranks.
The challenge now is a different one – the pencil in the hand will still write down the scores on the card, but the putter grip will surely be a little tenser with the pressure of needing to earn money to survive.
McKenzie can be his harshest critic out on the course, but there is no denying the talent of the former East Lodge footballer, who played alongside Southampton’s England cap James Ward-Prowse before soon realising he was more likely to become a professional golfer.
And having played in the same county boys team as Gregory, Ellis and Jack Singh-Brar who made Hampshire history by playing in the same Walker Cup side – and all playing on the European Tour since – it won’t be too much of a surprise if Billy turns out to be “the latest kid” to graduate from the Hampshire amateur ranks with distinction.
Hampshire’s 2017 Amateur Champion Harry Ellis, who is attached to Wentworth, is already through to stage two of the European Tour Qualifying School, having safely negotiated one of the nine first stage events held at Austria’s Golfclub Schloss last month.
North Hants’ Billy Watson, a former Hampshire Junior Champion, is teeing it up at the other first stage event starting tomorrow (Wednesday), at Hardelot, in France.