Mackenzie Hits Comeback Trail

Oct. 12, 2003

Seattle - When Washington golfer Paige Mackenzie stepped to the first tee at Sahalee Country Club last week, she found herself at a crossroad. She was ending one long journey and taking her first steps, or swings in this case, toward a whole new experience.

Mackenzie was about to play in her first collegiate tournament in 10 months after missing most of last season due to a back injury caused by bulging discs that had become too painful to compete.

By the end of the three-day, 54-hole Edean Ihlanfeldt Invitational, it appeared she was well on her way toward the form she had as a freshman when she finished 25th at the NCAA Championships.

'Her comeback has been impressive,' Mackenzie's mother Caren said, while watching her daughter over the course of the tournament along with her husband Hugh and Paige's older brother, Brock, a member of the Husky men's golf team.

Her family marched ahead on the course all week, father and brother analyzing each swing. When she hit a good shot the whole family would shout - more of a whisper on the golf course, 'Nice shot Paige.' When she would push her drive a little to the left or right or come up just short on a putt, the whole family would wince right along with Mackenzie.

Brock moves along the course and as if he was her shadow, playing the shots through his mind as if he were playing the hole himself.

'He looks at my lie, he looks at my yardage marker to see how far it is,' Mackenzie said about how closely her brother analyzes her game. 'He is up at the tee when I am putting. I can tell he is playing it in his head.'

It was the support of her family that got her through the tough times when she was forced to leave her clubs in her bag. They were a great support group when she made her comeback.

'It was wonderful,' Paige said grinning ear to ear. 'I was glad that Brock was able to make it out here.'

Mackenzie's comeback is far from finished. There are reminders that recovering from a back injury will be a lengthy process.

On the final day of the tournament, while jogging down a hill at the 14th hole, she felt a twinge in her back. The effect wasn't immediate, but she knew where things were going. She knew because she had felt it before. Battling a sore back since her freshman year that she was able to play through until the pain became too great last year.

'I didn't feel it for about 20 minutes and then on 15 and 16 it was really bothering me,' she recalled.

Mackenzie knows the reoccurring pain is something that she is going to have to deal with until she has fully regained the strength she had before the injury.

'More than anything it is just tiring,' Mackenzie said after he final 18 holes of play. 'I'm exhausted right now.'

Understanding the tough times she has ahead of her has allowed her to focus on moving on.

'I really don't have any expectations right now, because I don't know where I stand. I am very green mentally,' she said. 'When I play tournaments, mentally I am not quite sharp enough.'

If having to play through pain wasn't enough, Mackenzie had to play through a typical Washington fall afternoon. Changing weather conditions meant a change in the approach to each hole and a 10-month layoff takes a toll on a player's mental edge. Wednesday started as a blustery afternoon. There was a 45-minute rainstorm and it was even sunny for awhile.

'All we need now is a little snow and hail,' Mackenzie's father said.

Mackenzie would finish the round at 74, tying her best score of the tournament. She started the event by shooting an uncharacteristic 81. She would finish the tournament in 17th-place, the highest of any Husky finisher. She wasn't happy with the outcome, but it was somewhat expected considering the near yearlong layoff.

Mackenzie took advantage of her Brock's participation at this year's Walker Cup competition in England to jumpstart her comeback. He family traveled to England a week before the bi-annual competition between the top amateur golfers from the United States and Great Britain and Ireland.

'My first 18 holes were in England the week before the Walker Cup,' she said. 'I shot a 68, so it felt pretty good.'

According to her father, the toughest part of Mackenzie's comeback has been her flexibility. She has been working with physical therapists and she is making progress.

The mental aspect of Mackenzie's recovery as boosted in early October when a review panel from the NCAA granted her a full medical redshirt for last season. The ruling gives her three years to compete at Washington.

'That's was such a relief. I am just glad that the NCAA realized that I was out for so long,' Mackenzie said. 'I was glad they recognized all of the pain I have to go through the last year-and-a-half.'

Mackenzie and the Huskies will play two more tournaments this fall. Washington travels to Stanford for the Cardinal annual fall event Oct. 17-19 and then tee it up in Hawaii in early November.

By then, Mackenzie hopes to be able to step up to the first tee and concentrate only on hitting fairways and greens.

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