Celebrating the 100th NJSGA Junior Championship: Looking back with Ken Macdonald
Ken Macdonald, the 1995 NJSGA/William Y. Dear Junior champion, is being featured on the NJSGA.org website as part of a series of articles written in conjunction with the celebration of the 100th NJSGA Junior Championship which will be played this upcoming summer.
Golf has a funny way of impacting people in ways they never expected.
Ken Macdonald, a native of Glen Rock, reached the pinnacle of New Jersey golf as its youngest NJSGA Open champion in 1998, just three years after winning the NJSGA Junior Championship at age 17.
Look at him today, and one would not realize how successful he had been in the game of golf. Truly, it is his connection to the sport that has placed him as one of the top fitness instructors in Florida, with an array of current and past clients that include tennis star Venus Williams, current U.S. Amateur champion Ty Strafaci, and PGA Tour professionals Raymond Floyd, Lee Westwood, Charles Howell, and Brad Faxon, among others. He was also named one of the 50 best golf-fitness trainers in 2020 by Golf Digest.
“I was working out with a personal trainer at the health club at PGA National, something I hadn’t done before and it helped my game a lot,” said Macdonald, who was age 27 at that time and still playing on the Florida mini-tour circuit, specifically the Golden Bear Tour.
“So I got myself a job as a physical fitness attendant just so I could practice and play at PGA National,” said Macdonald now 42.
He had fared well over the course of five years after he graduated from the University of Richmond, where he starred on the golf team and won several professional events. Along the way, he advanced to the second stage of PGA Tour Qualifying School only once in five tries.
“At that point, my game started to go south. It was a combination of mental fatigue and a little burnout. I got tired of the traveling,” Macdonald said.
In 2006, he made up his mind to go full-time into fitness. He was named Director of Fitness at PGA National before deciding to open his own gym in 2011, the Lifetime Performance in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
“I had started working with some (PGA Tour) professionals, who lived in the area and it took off. I was fortunate to work with players like Raymond Floyd, Lee Westwood, Freddy Jacobson, Morgan Pressel, and others.”
“I think what has made me so successful is I like to learn a lot. I’m driven by education,” said Macdonald, who has achieved the highest level of instruction as a Level 3 certified golf fitness professional through the Titleist Performance Institute. He has about 120 clients today.
“I didn’t major in anything like this. I was a history major at (the University of) Richmond. Since then, I’ve gotten a master’s degree in human movement science. I have never been married to a specific strategy or style, and I try to take the best from what I’ve read or seen or used – and what works for my clients. My evaluations and my initial assessments of them are very thorough.”
Macdonald, who began his career on the golf team at Glen Rock High School, started the game later than many. But, as he aged through high school, he rapidly improved and the results were impressive.
“I didn’t start playing until eighth grade. Freshman year, my nine-hole average was 46. But I was 10 strokes better by junior year. The turning point was winning the Bergen County Dan Luciano Tournament in Bergen County, played at Hackensack Golf Club. It was something I always dreamed of winning.
“After I won that, my confidence grew. I knew I was pretty good. I could shoot par consistently and I could play well in tournaments.”
His play during 1995 was the stuff of legend. As a high school junior, he won virtually every tournament in which he played, including the Bergen County High School championship, the NJSIAA sectional, and the overall NJSIAA championship in a playoff over Eugene Smith of Glen Ridge, crediting high school coach Art Brady for much of his success.
That summer, playing out of Upper Montclair Country Club, he went on to win the Metropolitan Golf Association Junior Championship over John Olsen of Spring Brook and the NJSGA Junior Championship over Andrew Biggadike of Ridgewood Country Club as well as the Rutgers Junior Open. He also was runner-up in the NJSGA Amateur Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club, losing to Michael Hyland of Little Mill, just a month before the NJSGA Open.
Macdonald’s senior year of high school did not reach the same heights as his junior year, although he reached the final of the NJSIAA high school championship, this time losing to Smith in a playoff. He went onto Richmond, where he led the team in scoring average all four years and won two collegiate events. Macdonald also played in the 1999 NCAA Division 2 championship his junior year.
The summer before his junior year, during the summer of 1998, Macdonald won the 78th NJSGA Open Championship at Spring Lake Golf Club in a one-hole playoff over Brian Gaffney, then an assistant pro at nearby Manasquan River Golf Club.
“I really wasn’t nervous until the last hole. I remember Brian chipped in for an eagle on the ninth hole and that put him up by four strokes. I birdied 12 and 13 to get closer. When we got to 17, he was still up by two shots, but I made a 15-footer for a birdie and he made a bogey. In the playoff, I two-putted from 40 feet, almost making the long putt. Brian missed a short par putt to enable me to win,” said Macdonald, who had fired a five-under-par 67 to get even with Gaffney after three rounds.
“That’s the tournament I remember the most. At the time, I was the youngest to win it.”
At 20 years old, he was also only the fifth individual amateur (Chet Sanok of Upper Montclair won in 1951 and ‘56) to capture the Open Championship and the first since Billy Ziobro, then a recent graduate of the University of Maryland, in 1970. He shot seven-under-par 73-71-67-70 (281) in winning the Open.
In 2000, he added the NJSGA Amateur Championship to his resume.
He still gets out on the links today, but it is not the same.
“I feel like I’m two different people. My old life is my golf life. My new life is not that. I still enjoy playing with some clients, and at times, I do miss the competition,” Macdonald said.
“The younger kids today are a lot better than I was a junior.”
Besides a clientele that ranges from seniors to juniors, men and women, and many types in between, Ken Macdonald is now a devoted husband to wife Lindsay, an attorney who is originally from Connecticut. The two have an 18-month-old daughter, Kaleigh.
“In starting my own business, I feel the transition went well. I shared space and clients with a physical therapist,” he said. “I never felt I took a huge leap and was unsure of the return. I was always confident about that.”
As confident as a young golfer capable of winning two of the state’s biggest championships by the age of 20.