Why this pro isn’t afraid to look ‘crazy’ to gain speed

Mackenzie Hughes of Canada plays his shot from the 15th tee during the Sanderson Farms Championship at The Country Club of Jackson on September 29, 2022 in Jackson, Mississippi.

Mackenzie Hughes is far from one of the longest drivers on the PGA Tour, but he's been able to add speed coming into the 2022-23 season.

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Mackenzie Hughes is far from being mistaken as one of the PGA Tour’s bombers, but that gives him all the more reason to search for more speed to pair with his world-class putting.

Sitting in a tie for the lead through 36 holes at this week’s Sanderson Farms Championship, whatever he’s doing seems to be working.

“I started with a new coach a couple weeks ago in Napa and working on a couple small things which have been kind of showing on the golf course,” Hughes said, referring to his new relationship with Josh Gregory, who also coaches Will Zalatoris.

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But Hughes said chasing more speed has been something he’s been working on before he started with Gregory. Just a few seasons ago in 2019, Hughes averaged 173.39 mph ball speed off the tee. However, he hadn’t touched the 173 mph mark since then.

In fact, his average ball speed fell off, dropping below 169 mph in 2021 and staying around 170 in 2022. For reference, one mph of ball speed can equal around three to four yards of distance. In 2021, Hughes was averaging 293.5 yards off the tee.

That seems to have changed in the new PGA Tour season.

“I’ve been putting in a lot of work in the gym and on the range to increase my clubhead speed and ball speed, so that’s been showing up, as well,” Hughes said after his sparkling second-round 63 in Jackson.

Through two rounds this week, Hughes is averaging just over 172 mph ball speed on all drives, but that number rises over 174 mph when you exclude the two tee shots he’s hit this week with an iron. During his bogey-free second round, his tee shots were averaging 303.5 yards a pop.

This comes after he averaged 173.97 mph ball speed two weeks ago at the Fortinet Championship, his first tournament working with Gregory. He was more than a mile per hour below average a season ago and is now nearly two mph above average.

So, what’s the explanation for the sudden speed gains?

“I think just kind of lifting on a more regular basis,” Hughes said. “I think it’s easy to go through a tournament and say I’m not going to train this week, but I’ve been up in the gym here at the club and been putting in work up there, just even during the week, which normally I wouldn’t be doing. But trying to push a little bit harder, and also on the range, it’s just a commitment to doing it pretty much every other day, hitting drivers as hard as I can.”

Speed training — aka the cool way to say “hitting drivers as hard as I can” — is nothing new to the sport. But some people can be turned off by how it might look for a top pro to be whaling away at ball after ball on the range.

To that, Hughes says scoreboard.

“I know I’ve probably gotten a few looks on the range because it looks sometimes crazy, but it’s definitely helped,” he said. “And I feel like I’ve picked up a little bit of speed, which always helps in this game.”

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