In his own words: Mackenzie Hughes revisits up-and-down 2018 season
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Second-year PGA Tour pro Mackenzie Hughes is ready for some time off after a season full of learning.

Hughes, who captured the RSM Classic in November 2016, will be fully exempt next year on the PGA Tour. He earned just over $500,000 this season and finished 160th in the FedEx Cup standings with one top-10 result.

That came at the RBC Canadian Open, held only 30 minutes from where he grew up in Dundas, Ontario.

He admits he spent the year trying to get into a new routine as a first-time father - he and wife Jenna welcomed a son, Kenton, in October - but although he missed more cuts than he made, he's taken it all in stride as he looks to next season.

In his own words, here are Hughes' top three moments from the season that was.

A round he'll never forget

At The Players Championship in May, Hughes got to tee it up beside golfing icon Tiger Woods in the third round. Not only did Hughes have one of the best days in his golf career, he played well too - something that is rare for first-timers paired with Woods. He shot a 4-under-par 68 while Woods climbed the leaderboard after a 7-under-par 65.

Even now, this many months later, it's hard to put into words. A couple years ago, where I was, and now to be like, "I just played a Saturday round with Tiger at The Players," is mind-blowing.

For him to be the kind of guy he was - super kind and super genuine - that, to me was the coolest part of it. Just talking to him like an ordinary guy, and it was a normal round … except the only thing different was that it was with Tiger Woods and the guy has won 79 times.

I've watched him my entire life growing up and it was unbelievable. You had the sense, when you were with him, that he had a different aura. Just standing next to him before you even played the round, you knew it was going to be unlike anything you've ever done on the golf course. ...

There wasn't a single moment I could compare it to in terms of buzz and excitement. Even when I won, you can think of being in the final-group atmosphere Sunday on the PGA Tour, but it still didn't compare to that, which is pretty crazy. It was Saturday at 9 a.m. and there was more of a charge and a buzz than when I won. ...

I've got some great pictures of that day I'll probably get framed. It's one of those things that may never happen again, and honestly, there were times when I thought he wasn't going to come back and I wouldn't get that chance to play with him. But for it to happen this year and to play well to boot was really cool.

I saw him at the U.S. Open a little bit later on and I walked by him, and he said, "What's up, boss?" and I was like, "Wow - Tiger Woods just called me 'boss.' I guess my life is complete."

Major mojo

Despite coming into the week after two straight missed cuts, Hughes played the U.S. Open sectional qualifier in Memphis, Tenn., with a positive attitude and it paid off: He shot 10-under in the 36-hole single-day qualifier to earn a spot in his fourth major championship.

Any time you get a chance to compete in a major championship, it's special.

I haven't quite been able to perform the way I would have liked to in those events. I don't know if it's putting too much emphasis on them when you're actually there, but it's where all the best players in the world are for that week. You want to be there with those guys.

You don't have a chance to win them if you're not playing in them, and it's hard to get into them. Obviously, it's hard to win them too, but you have to be there and that's step one. I've done that four times now so it gives me opportunities and great experience.

If you look at a lot of guys - like Patrick Reed, he didn't have a lot of success in majors early on. Jon Rahm, too, he hadn't really done a whole lot in majors. These are guys with stellar resumes. There is just something a little bit different about a major. I don't think it's anything I'm worried about, but I'd love to play in all four next year and play really well.

It's good to be in those and get experience and learn from each moment. Hopefully there will be lots more in the future and hopefully, I can snag one one day.

Hometown hero

At the RBC Canadian Open, Hughes put on a show, notching his best result of the season and finishing as Low Canadian. He also made some fans for life. On the par-3 seventh hole, dubbed The Rink by tournament organizers and featuring hockey boards and marshals wearing referee costumes, Hughes wore a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey each day and gave it away to young kids in the crowd. He even chipped in wearing a jersey during Friday's second round. The 2019 Canadian Open is at Hamilton Golf and Country Club, just minutes from where he lived as a kid, and Hughes is an honorary member.

Playing in Canada, in front of hometown crowds and fans, it feels as though you're a rock star for that week. You feel like you're Jordan Spieth or Justin Thomas. It's pretty cool for us. When (Canadians) are at a tournament the reception for us is not like what it is in Canada, so to have that small taste of it is unbelievable.

When you're playing well and the fans are pulling you along because they're cheering for you, that's worth a birdie or two in my books. I love that energy and I love feeding off the crowd and using that to my advantage. On No. 7, The Rink, when I wore a jersey and chipped in, I can feed off that sort of stuff. I had a good finish and that sort of fan stuff is exciting. That's what we get one week of the year in Canada and it's a blast.

Going to Hamilton next year is going to be the same, if not better. I have a lot of family that is really close to that area. Glen Abbey can be sort of tough to get to from Dundas at the wrong time. Being at Hamilton, really close to where I grew up, I'm sure I'll see a lot of familiar faces.

Hopefully I can go into that event playing really well and having a good season to that point so I can be one of the guys that they say, going into the tournament, that he's got a chance to win.

That'd be a lot of fun, to go in there playing well and give it a run next year. This year was cool. If I really could have kept it going low Sunday, it would have been really fun to get in there a few shots from the lead, but it was still great. I'm looking forward to one day leading that tournament coming down the last couple holes and having that support behind me.

Adam Stanley has written about golf since 2011 for PGATOUR.com, LPGA.com, and the Canadian Press, among other organizations. He's also a frequent contributor to The Globe and Mail. Find him on Twitter @adam_stanley.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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In his own words: Mackenzie Hughes revisits up-and-down 2018 season
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