By Mike Dougherty
The question about turning professional was posed repeatedly over the last two years and Max Buckley was always quick to cut off the conversation. There was never any hesitation. He was a committed amateur golfer.
And then he started collecting trophies.
Buckley won the New York City Amateur, the Mittelmark Invitational, the Arcola Cup and the Nassau Invitational this season. The 23-year-old from Westchester Country Club was second at the Ike and third at the Westchester Open. He also teamed up with Max Christiana to capture the Anderson Memorial.
Next came the job interviews, along with a change of heart.
“I had always said that I never had any aspirations of turning pro,” Buckley said. “But the more I thought about it, I’ve improved so much the last couple of years … and I thought to myself, ‘How silly would it be to just throw away something that I’ve improved at every year for the last 18 years without seeing how good I could get?’ I’m going to be 24 next week, so if there is a time in my life where I can give it a legitimate shot, it’s now. I didn’t want to be 26 or 27 thinking, ‘What if I had tried? What would’ve happened?’ I’m hoping it all works out, but if it doesn’t I’ll be very content knowing I tried and put everything I had into it.”
He is planning to debut as a professional at the Met Open on Aug. 19-21 at Trump National-Bedminster.
Buckley was presented the Jerry Courville Sr. Player of the Year Award on Wednesday at Westchester Country Club during the Metropolitan Golf Association’s annual dinner.
He landed on top of the points list by winning the season-ending Nassau Invitational.
It was quite the exclamation point.
“Max has always been a great competitor,” said former MGA player of the year Mike Miller, who turned pro last August. “I still remember high school golf, playing against him and Max never wanted to lose, even a little 9-hole match. … His attitude on and off the course is something everyone should emulate, grinding when he has to and smiling to make the mood easier. I’m thrilled Max is this year’s player of the year because he truly deserves it.”
Jim Nantz, the longtime voice of golf at CBS, also was honored with the organization’s distinguished service award in part for his charitable efforts on behalf of the MGA Foundation.
Buckley developed a passion for the game at Westchester Hills under the watchful eye of former head pro Kevin Morris. He took another step forward with the help of Century assistant Frank Bensel and has made great strides after spending time on the lesson tee with Gary Weir, the director of instruction at Westchester Country Club.
A series of minor changes is proving transformational.
“He’s become a much better driver of the ball,” Weir said. “He’s become a better wedge player. I think Max has just become better in every facet of the game. I’ve always said to Max, ‘To be a really great driver of the ball, you have to be prepared to miss.’ He used to drive the ball trying not to get into trouble.”
Buckley now plays with real swagger.
He is heading for Australia later this month to play in the Australian Master of the Amateurs at Royal Melbourne and the Australian Amateur. A full slate of top amateur events kicks off in the spring in preparation for Web.com Tour qualifying and European Tour qualifying.
“Everything that I’m doing is in preparation for going pro,” Buckley said. “The fun part is in knowing that I can get even better in every facet of the game.”