IRVING, Texas - For the last year and half or so, Paige Mackenzie’s typical Thursday starts at about 3:00 a.m. She wakes up, gets ready, has breakfast and drives over to the Golf Channel studios for a 4 a.m. arrival. She does hair and makeup for the next hour. Then at 5:00 a.m., a 30-minute content meeting follows. She goes back and finishes hair and makeup, hangs out for a bit and reads over the day’s topics for the show and arrives on set about 6:15 a.m. She goes live at 7 a.m. with the “Morning Drive” crew beside her as she analyzes, entertains, informs and prognosticates the latest news in professional golf and instruction.
This Thursday, though, was far different for Mackenzie but yet familiar. This is the morning routine she enjoyed for the first seven years of her post-college life. The wakeup call comes a bit later, and instead of hair and makeup, she heads to the driving range, putting green and then the first tee. Her time to perform? 7:37 a.m. off of the first tee.
“It feels about the same, where you have that level of anticipation until the light goes on or until your name is called on the first tee,” Mackenzie said. “And then you’re in it! There’s no escaping it! The rollercoaster is on the way downhill.”
It had been over a year and a half since Mackenzie last heard her name called on the first tee like she did Thursday. In the time since, she’s become a respected and popular personality on Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive.” Although TV’s certainly her future, golf’s her past and she wants to make sure she doesn’t have any left in the tank on the course while both are still attainable.
“I want to go out on my own terms,” Mackenzie said. “I don’t want to go out because I’m injured, so I’m glad I have the opportunity to do that.”
It’s Golf Channel that provided her with that opportunity. Without a transition into TV when her injury happened, she said she surely would have quit. She wouldn’t have put herself through the financial stress of hoping that one day she’d be able to play golf again. Doctors, after all, had told her that she might never play again, and she wondered many times after surgery if they might prove correct. But there she was on Thursday, performing as always. There was rust, admittedly, and she was 5-over-par through the first seven holes. But she shook it off admirably and got right back in the swing of things with birdies at No. 9 and 10 and a lone bogey coming in to post a 4-over-par 75. Hardly a score to write home about, but when your goal is just to finish the week healthy, it’s a heck of a start.
“It was never going to be perfect, but the fact that I could kind of recover from imperfect golf was encouraging,” she said. “I was really pleased with it.”
Mackenzie never allowed herself to grieve when the game she loves was taken away. She was too connected to it and knew it wasn’t healthy to wallow in self-pity. However, she had to admit that Thursday served as a reminder of just how much she missed this game and the thrill of competing.
“I tried to keep a good attitude about it and enjoyed the time ahead and hoped one day,” Mackenzie said, “but to experience it again and to realize how much I do enjoy it, it’s nice.”
It’s not a full-time plan. She knows TV has emerged as her Plan A, and she’ll be back on the set of “Morning Drive” live from the Players Championship on Tuesday. Her hope is that she can play somewhere around once a month this year while maintaining her LPGA Tour card and her role on “Morning Drive.” One doesn’t really take away from another, she said. Her days on TV typically end around 9 a.m., allowing her four to five hours to practice before she has to get home to watch live golf coverage of the PGA and LPGA Tour to ensure she’s sharp for the following day. Starting at around 6 p.m. after watching golf for three to four hours, her and the crew will start to collaborate on an email chain for actionable content for the following day’s show. Specifically, she’s always got her eyes on her fellow touring pros for teachable moments that she can pull out the next day for her audience.
“You’re five seconds away from a viral video on Morning Drive,” Mackenzie said. “I guess, in golf, you can always hit a bad shot and recover, and on TV you don’t really have that luxury. Maybe to some extent it was more nerve wracking on Morning Drive than coming back.”
In both jobs, she feels the adrenaline, the pressure to perform, and the desire to improve. In much the same way she evaluates her game after a round, she watches for holes in her game on the tube. Her interviews, specifically, are what she wants to improve the most and she’s already seen tangible evidence of the work she’s put in. That hasn’t always been the case on the golf course.
“I learn something new every day, and it’s exciting for me,” she said. “I’ve played golf my entire life, and there is a diminishing law of returns between the amount of work that you put in and the amount of reward that you get out or improvement that you get. For me, television, I feel like I’ve come in a long way in a year, and it’s for me to see the improvement in my own delivery and execution on the TV side because it’s been a while since I’ve seen that kind of improvement in my golf game.”
The same surreal moments she had in golf, she’s had on TV, too. The one that sticks out the most is the show she got to broadcast with Josh Elliott of “Good Morning America,” who she’s long been a huge fan of and has watched on “Sportscenter” and later “Good Morning America.” And in much the way she found a family on Tour, she also has found a family on TV.
“I enjoy it because of the people that I work with,” she concluded. “I don’t think that the show would be nearly as fun if it weren’t for the guys that I get to sit down with every day and talk about golf. It’s just a really, really fun environment. I wake up every day and I look forward to going, and at 3:00 in the morning, that says a lot.”
Perhaps more importantly for her than anything, she’s found the joy from TV that she first found in the game. Because the reality, she says, is that she doesn’t know how long her body will allow this comeback attempt to last – or if it even will at all. The hope is that it’s more than a one-week experiment but it’s too early to tell. Her back is still a bit sore after she plays these days but there’s no nerve damage and the pain and discomfort is manageable for now. But for how long? That’s anyone’s guess at this point.
But when that time comes, Mackenzie can walk away on her own terms.
“If for some reason I can’t do more than one week in a row or if I can’t practice as much as I want to to be competitive out here, then I do have another option that I’m extremely passionate about and that I really enjoy doing.”