Free spirit Mark Hubbard eyes first TOUR title at Sanderson Farms

JACKSON, Miss. – Mark Hubbard borrowed his longtime friend Max Homa’s caddie, Joe Greiner, for two weeks in fall 2020.

They had a good vibe, and Hubbard was asked if he would ever consider employing Greiner full-time.

“My brother was like, ‘Why wouldn’t Joe ever come caddie for you full-time?’ and I’m like, ‘Look, Max’s ceiling is so freaking high,’” Hubbard explained. “I know I’m good, but Max has potential to do all this stuff.

“Not that I don’t see myself as a really good golfer, but I don’t think I’m ever going to be No. 1 in the world. I don’t have the length, and frankly, I don’t think I have the discipline enough. I like the rest of my life too much to practice that much and grind that much.”

Hubbard is one of the TOUR’s free spirits, a throwback who doesn’t take himself or the game too seriously. He enjoys his down time, skiing, having a few beers with buddies. On the course, he’ll mix in the ‘snail’ putting method – wrapping the right arm over the shaft, and then looping the right pinky finger back under – to keep fans guessing.

Hubbard also has plenty of game, the ample blend of talent and work ethic to make 163 career PGA TOUR starts, in addition to 91 Korn Ferry Tour appearances. Hubbard has won on the Korn Ferry Tour but not yet on the PGA TOUR; his best showing is a runner-up at the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Houston Open in fall 2019. That could change this week in Mississippi.

The 33-year-old has opened the Sanderson Farms Championship in rounds of 67-69, firmly in the mix through two rounds at the Country Club of Jackson.

True to form, Hubbard has shown a willingness to experiment in his process. After about four or five holes Thursday, he decided to abstain from using his own read on putts. His caddie Kyle Peters proceeded to make every read, and they made eight birdies in the final 13 holes on day one.

“My caddie’s green-reading,” Hubbard said Thursday when asked the key to his round. “I just do not see the greens, which is interesting because they’re similar to the grass I see at home in Houston.

“I think this is the first time ever (completely deferring on putts). I like to be very instinctual with my putting and just go with my first read. I probably bring him in on three or four putts a day, maybe; a tough week would be 10. For him to read pretty much every one today, that was big for us.”

Hubbard is no stranger to an audible on the fly. He began the 2021-22 PGA TOUR season on conditional status, having finished No. 143 on the 2021 FedExCup standings.

It meant a split schedule between the PGA TOUR and Korn Ferry Tour, a year of monitoring alternate lists and staying prepared to change a flight on a moment’s notice. Rather than allowing the uncertainty to distract him, Hubbard thrived. He went T13-third-fourth in consecutive weeks in July to cement his spot in the FedExCup Playoffs, and he begins this season as a full TOUR member, no strings attached.

The free spirit can play with even more freedom, as he eyes his first TOUR title.

“I want to be the best version of myself, and for me, when golf becomes too much of a priority, the rest of my life suffers and I’m just not happy,” Hubbard said. “It is kind of that balance for me of finding how much do I grind and practice, because I do love it and I do care and I do want to be really good. There are times where it is kind of a means to an end, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that; I think I can still go out and win tournaments. I think I can still go out and win this weekend without killing myself over it and still go skiing and having beers with my buddies and whatever.

“Maybe I’m wrong about that, but I think that’s why I’ve played well the years that I’ve played well out here, is because I’ve had the best balance for myself.”

Hubbard’s attitude resonates with his peers, as evidenced by the scene around his post-round press conference Friday in Mississippi. Chris Stroud called over to proclaim Hubbard a “top-five player in the world,” and Chesson Hadley added a playful greeting.

When asked how he’ll prepare for managing his emotions down the stretch, Hubbard noted he has listened to a variety of Homa’s podcasts and other conversations – “he’s someone who I think has struggled mentally in the past and has really turned it around, and now I feel like that’s one of my strengths,” he said Friday.

The Denver native aims to channel that positive energy in chase of the Sanderson Farms Championship’s famed Reveille the Rooster trophy. If he falls just short, life will go on. He’ll do his best, though, to give it a run.

“All that aside about the balance, this is absolutely my dream job,” Hubbard said. “I love the travel. I’ve got a really good group of friends out here. All of our wives get along. My wife is great; I’ve got an awesome little kid, another one on the way. I really couldn’t ask for anything more.

“Anytime you can be in contention, that’s why we practice, that’s why we get up. Even though it’s not always my No. 1 priority, it’s a huge, huge part of my life, and I couldn’t be happier and more grateful that I’m out here.”