Billy McKenzie turned in another impressive display at a prestigious event as he continues to make a big impact on American college golf.
The 21-year-old from Rowlands Castle shrugged off a two-month break from competitive golf to claim tied-11th at the Patriot All-American Invitational at the Wigwam Club, Arizona, while on duty for William Woods University, Missouri – the fifth-ranked college in the country.
The 54-hole amateur event combines sporting excellence with a military remembrance aspect as each player is invited to play and then represent a fallen war hero for the Folds of Honor Foundation.
McKenzie was representing Sergeant Brandon Maggart, 24, who died in Iraq back in 2010, and admitted it was a great source of pride to have his name embroidered on his golf bag.
With rounds of 73, 76 and a two-under-par 69, the talented Hampshire amateur narrowly missed out on a place in the top 10.
But he ended up just seven strokes back from the eventual winner.
And it extended an excellent run of results that has seen him register a scoring average of 71, which has earned him a ranking in the top five in college golf across the country.
McKenzie landed victories in the WWU Boone Hospital Fall Invite and the Columbia College Cougar. He also claimed third place in the Mid-South Classic.
But after shaking off some rust, the left-hander showed he is still entirely capable of competing with the cream of the college amateur golfers.
‘My swing was a bit rusty because I hadn’t played for two months,’ said McKenzie.
‘The fall season ended in October for our school and spring is the main season.
‘The weather is just too cold to play in Missouri over the winter months unfortunately.
‘But I was very happy with the way I played.
‘I didn’t actually realise how strong the field was this year until after the event, when I started searching through the world rankings.
‘Considering I hadn’t played in two months, to finish that high shows I’ve got a little bit of natural talent for the sport.
‘I just wish I had the opportunity to be in the sun all year round so my game could always be sharp.
‘But it will help my world ranking massively.’
McKenzie chose not to venture back to the UK for the Christmas holidays and opted instead for a stay in Florida.
But even though he admitted it was a different experience, his parents did make the trip.
He said: ‘It’s 25 degrees and sunny so it didn’t feel like Christmas in Portsmouth, but I’ll take it!
‘My parents flew over to spend Christmas with us, though, which was very nice.
‘It’s a long time away from home so at least them being here made it feel a little more like home.’
McKenzie now faces a few weeks to sharpen his game in readiness for the new college season, which starts in Florida in March.
He added: Our first tournament in the spring is in Florida in early March.
‘So I’ve just got a lot of workouts to get better until then.
‘I’m looking forward to the new season.’