McKenzie shortlisted for Jack Nicklaus Award

Rowlands Castle's Billy McKenzie Picture: Andrew Griffin
Rowlands Castle's Billy McKenzie Picture: Andrew Griffin

Gregory is declared as Europe’s top amateur

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Rowlands Castle’s Billy McKenzie has been nominated for the prestigious Jack Nicklaus Award for the second year running.

The 21-year-old is enjoying another stellar season on the US college golf circuit.

McKenzie’s picked up five individual titles as his William Woods University team has swept all before them on their way to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) finals, which began yesterday at the TPC Deere Run course, Illinois.

The award winner, who will be announced on Thursday June 2, will get the chance to play in the Barbasol Shootout at the Scioto Country Club – the course where Nicklaus learned to play the game as a junior – on June 4.

The top player in the shootout will then compete in the PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championship, which is being held at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, at Grand National in Opelika, Alabama, from July 14-17.

McKenzie could be presented with the Jack Nicklaus Award from the all-time Major record winner himself, during the final round of the PGA Tour’s Memorial Tournament, which is due to be held at Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village Golf Club, in Dublin, Ohio, on June 5.

Memorial was won in 2013 by another former county junior star, Justin Rose, so it would be fitting for one of only three Hampshire-based American college golfers to receive the award from the golf legend.

McKenzie, who is studying for a degree in sports management, returned to America in time for the autumn term after the biggest win of his career on this side of the Atlantic – The Berkshire Trophy – last June.

It is one of the most historic strokeplay events in the UK golf calendar and has been won by many of the amateur game’s biggest names.

Buoyed by that confidence, on top of his outstanding first two seasons Stateside, the county colt has taken his game to new levels of consistency in the 2015-16 campaign.

He has a stroke average of 71.79.

On top of his five wins, McKenzie only finished outside the top six twice in 11 events, earning him the American Midwest Conference Player of the Year title after his college claimed the AMC qualifier for a third year in a row.

In his debut season in the States, McKenzie claimed the NAIA’s Phil Mickelson Freshman of the Year Award.

The William Woods team are up against 19 other qualifiers for the NAIA Division One finals.

Last year the Owls – who are ranked first nationally – finished second, 11 shots behind Coastal Georgia.

And McKenzie, who was bitterly disappointed to finish 60th on the individual leaderboard 12 months ago, is determined to help his team-mates claim the ring traditionally awarded to the NAIA champions come Friday.

– ANDREW GRIFFIN