Paige Mackenzie meets challenge of making call from booth

KILDEER, IL - JUNE 29: during the second round of the 2018 KPMG PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes Golf Club on June 29, 2018 in Kiledeer, Illinois. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Paige Mackenzie meets challenge of making call from booth

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Paige Mackenzie meets challenge of making call from booth

KILDEER, Ill. – Outside of another Nancy Lopez type capturing the hearts of American fans, the most common answer to growing the LPGA’s fan base is storytelling. TV carries the brunt of the load, placing a premium on talent. During Friday’s telecast of the KPMG Women’s PGA, Paige Mackenzie compared former No. 1 Sung Hyun Park to a Maserati.

“You’re standing in your car valet and a Maserati shows up,” said Mackenzie, “to me that’s what it’s like when Sung Hyun Park walks on the driving range. She’s sporty, she’s powerful, there’s this elegance to her swing. There’s this mystery almost.”

Though wildly popular in South Korea, Park is a tough sell domestically. She rarely shows emotion. She uses an interpreter for interviews. She’s a physical specimen to be sure, but who is she, exactly? Mackenzie’s spot-on comparison surely hooked a few newcomers to take note.

Mackenzie, 35, first joined “Morning Drive” as a co-host in 2013, and when back surgery sidelined her LPGA career she began working in television full time. Mackenzie thought there was a void at the Golf Channel, particularly on the studio side, of having a consistent female voice, one that fully understood the LPGA players and their personalities.

“My hope is that I was able to kind of create a little bit of flavor and little bit of color around these players,” Mackenzie said, “and tell the audience why they should watch.”

Four years later, the smart, driven Mackenzie has dipped her toe into a new challenge: booth analyst.

The feels-like temperature at the Kemper Lakes Golf Club on Saturday was 110 degrees, and the TV booth near the 18th green offered little relief. The lone cameraman in the trailer, Greg Acker, MacGyver’d a cooling system by placing a garbage bag full of ice in front of two box fans – one for him and one for the talent.

Mackenzie, dressed in a sleeveless number and flanked by Dan Hicks and Gary Koch, hardly broke a sweat making her network booth debut. That’s how it appeared at least. The Washington grad approached the week like she would a college exam – scrolling through copious notes on her computer from conversations with a third of the field, coaches and caddies.

Mackenzie’s role model in broadcasting is Judy Rankin. Golf Channel executive vice president Molly Solomon said Rankin, 73, still loves her job but has asked for a reduced work schedule. Rankin always has endorsed Golf Channel’s search for her successor.

“In fact,” Solomon said, “she’s encouraged it.”

Karen Stupples, a major winner and opinion maker who is adept at telling viewers exactly what a player is feeling at any given time, will be in the booth next week at the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic, and Rankin will return for the Marathon Classic. Rankin and Stupples will share booth duties at the Ricoh Women’s British Open.

Solomon said “Tell me something I don’t know” is the mantra of identifying an outstanding analyst. Outside of golf, Mackenzie appreciates the work of Rowdy Gaines and Tony Romo. She watched a number of Romo clips after getting the KPMG assignment.

“Ever since I started at Golf Channel I watch television differently,” Mackenzie said. “Watching Rowdy Gaines at the Olympics is one of my favorite analysts to listen to because, No. 1, he brings you in, he makes you excited about swimming. And the second thing is he teaches you something. He teaches you to see things the way that he sees them.”

On Saturday of The Players, Mackenzie sat on the set with lead producer Tommy Roy in her ear. She wanted to get a sense of his tone and his pacing before experiencing it live. At the KPMG, Roy pushed Mackenzie to project more. It’s supposed to feel like a conversation on set, but if Mackenzie feels she has something important to say, it’s important that viewers take notice.

Mackenzie, now a mom to Beckett, loves to try new things. Whether or not her time in the booth at KPMG leads to a new chapter remains to be seen. But her strong voice, her easy way of explaining things and disarming charm makes her a significant asset for growing the LPGA. For helping fans understand players like Park.

“My philosophy moving forward is to say yes as many times as possible,” Mackenzie said. “Because it has gotten me to where I am right now, and where I am makes me really happy.” Gwk

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