Mackenzie Hughes Dials in Speed Ahead of RBC Canadian Open

Mackenzie Hughes, 2023 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, (Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)
Mackenzie Hughes, 2023 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, (Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images) /

The RBC Canadian Open will be played this week over the picturesque landscape of Oakdale Golf & Country Club in Toronto.

This marks the first time that Oakdale, established in 1926, will host the RBC Canadian Open, and offers yet another opportunity for a Canadian winner. After all, there hasn’t been a Canadian champion of this historic event since Pat Fletcher won in 1954.

Nearly 70 years later, Canada’s Mackenzie Hughes is primed to attempt to break that Canadian winless drought and claim victory in his native Open.

Known as one of the good guys on Tour, Mac, as he’s affectionately known, takes his job seriously, but also balances that with an open and friendly approach to the game, especially to youngsters who encounter Hughes at Tour events.

He’s been known to bring out a young fan during a practice round to hit a couple shots. And recently, a video clip showed Hughes playing rock, paper, scissors with a fan for his golf cap.

But when it comes to his own golf game, Mackenzie Hughes is all business. And in the high-stakes, ultra-competitive world of professional golf, no stone can be left unturned to ensure the highest level of preparation is met week-in and week-out.

Mackenzie Hughes’ hard work in the gym pays off in a big way.

Hughes’ ball striking and renowned short game are historically his strengths. But with golf courses only getting longer and distance off the tee a priority to compete at the highest levels, Mac knew he needed to adjust.

Enter Mike Carroll, a TPI Level 1 certified strength and conditioning coach from Ireland who now lives and coaches in the U.S. He works with several professional golfers, both in person and via his popular golf fitness app, Fit For Golf, including members of the PGA Tour like Mackenzie Hughes.

Carroll says that when Mackenzie Hughes contacted him about working together, Hughes wanted to increase his ball speed and driving distance. It’s not that he hadn’t been trying. Hughes worked out pretty regularly and thought he was doing what he needed to. However, Carroll saw an opportunity and wanted Hughes to train more like a strength and power athlete trains.

“(Hughes) strength levels now compared to when we started are massively increased, and his ball speed record has increased by approximately 10mph,” says Carroll.

Each added mile per hour of ball speed adds approximately 2.5 yards of carry distance to the shot. For Hughes, that equates to 25 yards of added distance, although professional golfers do not swing for the fences on every drive. However, as he’s gained more confidence in swinging faster during competition, those gains are beginning to show up on the course.

Once certain speed gains are made, it becomes gradually more difficult to improve those numbers without a significant amount of focus and time, which professional golfers have a finite amount of. Balance is key.

“We definitely try to strike a balance between doing enough to see progress, but not so much that he cannot give the other parts of his game the attention they need,” says Carroll.

Hughes’s debut PGA Tour victory came back in 2016 at The RSM Classic in Georgia. However, six long years had gone by without stepping foot in the winner’s circle again. That is, until October 2022 when Mackenzie Hughes defeated Sepp Straka in a playoff to win the Sanderson Farms Championship, a proud day for both Hughes and Carroll.

"“He had really committed to the work we were doing for a couple of months prior to that event and it was one of the best driving weeks of his career,” Carroll says. “He had a lot of drives up close to 180mph ball speed (PGA Tour average is about 173mph) and his average for the season that had just finished was 170mph.”Carroll continued, “…it was a week where we could both clearly see the value in the work he was putting in.”"

As Hughes’ game continues to trend upward, that added length, not only off the tee but in terms of shorter clubs into greens, can only mean one thing.

"“(Hughes) will gain strokes against the field almost every week on and around the greens,” said Carroll. “If he’s gaining them off the tee consistently, too, he is going to be on a lot of leaderboards.”"

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Perhaps he’ll not just be on the leaderboard this week at the RBC Canadian Open but instead, at the very top when the final putt drops on Sunday evening.