2006: Learning the curves

By Evan Rothman

Paige Mackenzie once had to contemplate life without golf. Now, she is beginning life as a professional golfer and if recent form holds, it should be richly rewarding.

A three-time All-American at the University of Washington, Mackenzie is a favorite to get through LPGA Qualifying School later this year. Her goals are as concentrated and ambitious as she is.

“I want to have a shot to win Q-School,” says Mackenzie, who graduated this spring with a degree in business administration. “I don’t think the focus should be on the cut line, it should be on the victory. That’s my immediate focus; I don’t want to put the cart ahead of the horse.”

Mackenzie began to work with PGA Master Professional Joe Thiel as a Washington freshman. Their efforts were halted for the entirety of Mackenzie’s sophomore season because of multiple back injuries – including stress fractures and, while rehabbing, a disc injury – brought on, she believes, by trying to get into new positions that her body wasn’t then capable of achieving.

This dark period ultimately proved fruitful. Mackenzie started reading books on sports psychology, including Lance Armstrong’s autobiography, which helped her emerge mentally tougher.

“They kept me moving in the right direction,” she says.

And the strength and flexibility she achieved through physical therapy (including deep-tissue massage) and a newly intense training regimen paid dividends. Upon her return, Mackenzie’s swing was surprisingly close to where she and Thiel had wanted it to be, needing largely just to be grooved. More important, she emerged, her coach says, “knowing her body better than any human being I’ve taught in 37 years. She knows how to practice, when, how much – she knows how to make her practice real.”

Their early work emphasized full-swing issues, getting Mackenzie to keep her hips from falling toward the ball on the takeaway and downswing, the cornerstone of Thiel’s teaching.

Today, “Paige’s ballstriking is her strength – she can hit the ball where she’s looking,” Thiel says, and the focus has shifted to all things 100 yards and in, with only maintenance needed on the full swing.

If Mackenzie is loath to look beyond the next step, Thiel is more forthcoming.

“Paige has such a passion for the game at this point in her life, for all the right reasons,” he says, “there is nothing that will keep her from being a major champion.”

“Joe’s told me before that he feels like my par is 68,” she says, “and I’m starting to feel that way more and more. He has a lot of confidence in my ability, and I’m beginning to buy into that as we go along.”

– Evan Rothman is a special contributor to Golfweek.

Contact him about instruction at erothman@golfweek.com

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