After two episodes of Big Break Mexico, McKenzie Jackson and her team look to be in big trouble.
The Golf Channel competition, which includes the former Green resident, in the early stages gives teams “strikes” for losing challenges; each strike means that one team member will have go home when the show decides to collect on the strikes. After two episodes, Jackson’s four-member team has two strikes while neither of the other two teams has any. The third, potentially pivotal episode is at 9 tonight, after a replay of the second show at 8.
The series puts a lot on the line, including a six-figure package of cash and prizes and an exemption to play in a PGA or LPGA event in November. That’s pretty attractive to someone like Jackson. Her first pro-golf paycheck, in January 2012, was $950 — for a third-place finish. And, while she lives in Arizona, she laughingly said she will keep her 330-area-code mobile phone “as long as my dad keeps paying for it.”
Regardless of the outcome on the show, the daughter of Kurt and Kim Jackson of Green might already have come up winners. Through the show she has added sponsors, not to mention Twitter and Instagram followers (she’s @mckenzie1207), new visitors to her website (www.mckenziefjackson.com) and friend requests on Facebook.
The new attention is somewhat surprising for the 24-year-old, though not a complete shock. With a 2011 degree in marketing from Kent State, she knows the importance of getting public attention; hence the website, which invites people to “follow me as I chase my dream to the LPGA.”
She went to the LPGA qualifying school in 2012 but missed the cut by 2 strokes; she plans to be back there later this year. She has been playing the Cactus Tour and other circuits, and she is eligible for events on the Symetra Tour, the LPGA’s developmental tour.
And all this came after she planned to be a softball player. While a student at Green High School, she said, “I didn’t start playing golf until I was almost 17 years old. … I picked it up as a joke with my friends, and tried out for the team and actually made the team.” At the same time, at 5-foot-3, she thought she was big enough for high school softball but “in college it’s like, they’re a little bit bigger girls. … I just decided I’m going to walk on [in golf] at Kent State and had to earn my scholarship.”
She later went pro and, while on the Cactus Tour, was urged to try out for Big Break. “I auditioned out here at one of the golf courses,” she said. “I didn’t really think anything of it. … I never really was so religious about watching [the show] but I knew what it was.” Jan Dowling, an assistant golf coach at Kent, had been on Big Break III, and Jackson is friends with Allison Micheletti, who was on Big Break Atlantis.
Still, she said, “I got a call that I was finalist and then I got a call about a month later that I was on it.” Taping was in January and February — although Jackson couldn’t even tell people she was on the show. “It was pretty tough,” she said. “But that’s OK. I’m good at keeping secrets.”
The series puts golfers through various challenges, which might involve playing straightforward golf but can also include stunts like breaking a pane of glass with a shot, or playing blackjack — with different parts of the green marked for different cards. It requires golf skills but is at some remove from playing in tournaments. Jackson said the competition never involved just playing 18 holes against each other.
“It’s like, well, you kind of have to take it one shot at a time,” she said. “In golf, if I hit a bad shot, I can still make the putt. I can make up for it. … [The show] is one shot at a time.” And that one shot might not be followed by a chance to make up for an error, because of the structure of the challenges.
On the one hand, she said the pressure on each shot was good, because it reminded her that “you’ve got to learn to execute when needed.” On the other, after the show was done, she said, “I struggled. We never played 18 holes of golf. So when I got back, I played a tournament and it was like I didn’t know what I was doing. I hadn’t played a full round of golf in a month and a half. … It took me about four tournaments to get back to where I was before I left.”
The team aspect of the show was also challenging. “I’m a competitor and I don’t like other people’s golf determining how well I do,” she said. “In softball, that was a team thing, that’s all it was. But in golf it’s not a team thing, it’s a you thing. And it was hard for me to go back that, because I wasn’t used to it. But my team was great, and they’re good people.”
And now, she said, “I’m back where I want to be” in her second year as a pro and “I’m going 120 percent.” But TV has given her a noticeably higher profile. She walked into a store not long ago and “four people wanted to take their picture with me. I was like, ‘oh, my gosh.’ When I walk out of the house, I don’t think people are going to know who I am. It’s pretty wild. … And then [Wednesday] I got off the golf course, and this little girl came over to me. She’s in a golf outfit and said, ‘McKenzie, can you take a picture with me? I watch you on Big Break Mexico.’ ... It’s really cool that these little girls are looking up to me.”
Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including in the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or firstname.lastname@example.org.