Billy bidding to continue rapid rise

Billy Mckenzie took up golf just five years ago
Billy Mckenzie took up golf just five years ago
Harry Ellis

Ellis buoyed by Major praise after Open

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Billy McKenzie is bidding to take another step in his meteoric rise towards golfing stardom this week – remarkably just five years after first swinging a club.

The talented 18-year-old Rowlands Castle man will tee up in the South East of England Links Championship held between the two famous venues of Royal St Georges and Royal Cinque Ports in Kent, starting today.

And Mckenzie is going into the event brimming with confidence after finishing as runner-up at the recent West of England Amateur Strokeplay Championship at Saunton – the best result so far in his fledgling career.

Mckenzie said: ‘I was three back from the winner but I was pleased with how I played.

‘It was 30mph wind every day and, after the first round, I was tied 33rd so didn’t expect too much.

‘But I played some solid golf after that and I was chuffed to bits with coming second.

‘That result has given me a lot of confidence. This week I will be looking to play exactly the same way to give me a chance of being up there again.’

Considering Mckenzie’s first taste of the sport came in May 2008, it has been extraordinary progress.

Just a year later, he was a single-figure golfer and now boasts a plus-one handicap, which is particularly impressive as he felt the sport was better suited to a more mature demographic.

He smiled: ‘My dad got me started. He suggested I take it up and, at first, I said “it’s an old man’s game” but I had a go and I’ve never looked back.

‘But I only picked up a club for the first time in 2008. I’ve been progressing in leaps and bounds every year so now I am starting to feel I can compete instead of just playing for fun.

‘Other people seemed to think I was a bit of a natural when I started and my handicap has just kept coming down.’

While making his way in the amateur game is his first priority, Mckenzie has bigger plans – not only for the remainder of this year, but also beyond as he holds the ambition of a career in the professional ranks.

That means he will head out to the USA in the autumn with a scholarship at William Woods University in Missouri as he bids to follow in the footsteps of Luke Donald, who came through the US college system.

But before Mckenzie tries his luck in the States, he remains hopeful he could yet gatecrash The Open Championship when he enters the qualifying process at Hankley Common next month.

Mckenzie said: ‘I would like to turn professional at some point but that’s a long way off yet and I’m going to the USA later this year to study sports management and play golf.

‘I got through to final qualifying last year but there were only three spots available and I ended up about 40th.

‘Some people don’t think there is that much point because it is so hard to get through.

‘I had a major champion in Michael Campbell playing two groups behind me last year so it tells you what the standard of the field is like!

‘It’s tough when you see all of those top pros there.

‘But three have got to qualify so you never know.

‘If you play well enough, you’ve got a chance.’