Club Maker the One Constant at Wilson

By Associated PressDecember 29, 2004, 5:00 pm
Bob Mendralla enjoys getting behind the grinding wheel with an iron in his hand and letting the sparks fly, crafting another club for Wilson Golf at its technical center in Chicago.
 
Even after 57 years, the job never gets old.
 
Mendralla still has a backup set of irons that he made for Vijay Singh, ready to be shipped when the Fijian left for another equipment company five years ago. He also made the last set of Wilson Staff irons for Arnold Palmer.
 
The players Mendralla has worked with over the years reads like a roster from the Hall of Fame.
 
He traded jokes with Sam Snead. He relaxed with Julius Boros. Gene Sarazen thought so much of him that he brought Mendralla to the Masters one year. Mendralla spent hours of give-and-take with a fresh face out of college, Hale Irwin, making his clubs for two dozen years and three U.S. Open titles.
 
'Firstly, Bob is a friend as much as anything,' Irwin said. 'He's a very competent technician as it relates to golf equipment, and he's recognized as one of the best in the business. He stood head-and-shoulders above others. I felt fortunate to have him by my side.'
 
Not a bad career for someone who was crestfallen when Wilson put him to work in the golf division.
 
Mendralla was 17, fresh out of high school and looking for part-time work doing even the most menial tasks. He lived in the neighborhood where Wilson Sporting Goods was located and heard they were hiring kids for 50 cents an hour.
 
His dream was to get into the baseball division. It was 1947, just two years removed from when the Chicago Cubs won the National League pennant, a mere 39 years since they were World Series champions.
 
'I went there with hopes of working in baseball,' Mendralla said. 'What did I know about golf coming from Chicago? But they put me in golf and I thought, 'Geez, what a bad break that was.''
 
He started out sweeping floors. When he returned from a two-year stint in the military, he was put in charge of raw material and forgings. Before long, he was taught to grind the forged irons and he eventually became the master clubmaker at Wilson Golf.
 
The culmination of his amazing career was last year when Mendralla, who turned 75 on Tuesday, became only the 25th person inducted into the Professional Clubmakers Society Hall of Fame, joining the likes of Old Tom Morris, Willie Park Jr., and longtime Hogan clubmaker Gene Sheeley.
 
And he's still going strong.
 
The company is going back to its roots by reviving its Wilson Staff brand and preparing for one of its largest launches ever, everything from drivers to irons to wedges to putters to golf balls.
 
Mendralla, longtime head of the Research and Development division at Wilson, was largely responsible for the three models of irons - Fi5 (forged iron), Di5 (distance iron, slightly oversized) and Pi5 (performance iron with an undercut cavity back).
 
'We've put quite a few things in front of Bob,' said Angus Moir, global business director of Wilson Golf. 'You can't buy that length of service and expertise. He knows what a golf club should look like. He was one of the guys on the Wilson staff when it was the top company in the world. And he's pleased to see us back as Wilson Staff.'
 
Wilson is at an important crossroads.
 
For years, it was among the top golf equipment companies in the world, especially with its Wilson Staff irons. Two-time U.S. Open champion Andy North honed his game on those irons, along with Irwin, Bernhard Langer, Johnny Miller and the late Payne Stewart. Women who use the clubs included some of the best who ever played, from Babe Zaharias to Patty Berg, from Mickey Wright to Kathy Whitworth.
 
'Our reputation was real strong with the Wilson Staff line through the '60s, '70s and '80s,' Mendralla said. 'We had some of the best players, and that was the club you played on tour. If you wanted to be playing top-of-the-line equipment, you were playing Wilson Staff.
 
'Now we're getting back to it, and it's the right direction to go.'
 
Moir said Wilson got hung up on technology, allowing that to steer its promotional campaign away from a brand that had built up so much heritage through the years.
 
Wilson came up with an iron called 'Fat Shaft,' a driver it referred to as 'Deep Red' and a ball that was built around catchy phrases such as 'Smart-Core' and 'i-wound.'
 
'We have a cherished brand we kind of left under a stone for many years because we were focusing so hard on technologies,' Moir said. 'That brand has so much history, and it still resonates with consumers.'
 
Wilson also wants to have a stronger presence on the PGA Tour. It shifted its marketing strategy in 2000 to align itself with club professionals, believing they had a more direct impact at the point of sale. But its history is having a world-class lineup of tour players endorsing its products.
 
Now, the two most prominent players at Wilson are Padraig Harrington and Jesper Parnevik.
 
'Over time, we want to get a stronger presence on tour,' Moir said. 'The tour is an important part of the overall strategy. In the last 50 or 60 years, we had a lot of great players who used Wilson Staff. But we've got to get the financial house in order first.'
 
As Wilson goes through more changes - in branding and marketing strategy - the constant has been Mendralla.
 
He never dreamed he would stay with Wilson for nearly 60 years, or that a teenager who only wanted to help make Wilson's baseball gloves would be a master clubmaker who got equipment into the hands of some of golf's bests.
 
Looking back, Mendralla wouldn't change a thing.
 
He is just as excited about the new irons as he was the popular DynaPower series from the late '60s.
 
'Golf never gets boring,' Mendralla said. 'It changes by the year, and by the day. And every time you think you've just hit a home run, you've got to hit another one.'
 
Mendralla will never get baseball out of his vernacular. But he continues to forge a career making golf clubs.
 
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Chamblee comments on Choi's unique step-through swing

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 24, 2018, 3:55 pm

The golf world found itself enamored with a largely unknown journeyman this weekend.

Ho-sung Choi went from 554th in the world to No. 1 in the hearts of all those who swing the golf club just a little bit differently thanks to his run at the Korean Open.

The 44-year-old with the exaggerated step through impact found himself two off the pace through 54 holes and in contention for one of two available invitations to this year's Open Championship at Carnoustie.

Choi fell out of the hunt for tournament title and the Open exemption with a final-round 74, but nonetheless left an impression with his tie for fifth.



Asked about Choi's swing Saturday night, Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee offered the following:

"If Chi Chi Rodriguez and Gary Player had a golf school, what would their first professional golfer swing like? Voila," Chamblee said.

"Both those legends had walk through finishes, but Ho Sung has taken this move to a new level with a borderline pirouette to keep from hanging back.

"In an era when professional golfers get accused of having golf swings that all look alike, I’ve never seen anyone swing quite like Ho Sung Choi.

"I can’t wait to try this on the range tomorrow."

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Wallace holds off Olesen to win BMW International

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 3:43 pm

PULHEIM, Germany - England's Matt Wallace shot a 7-under 65 to hold off a record-breaking charge from Thorbjorn Olesen and win the BMW International Open on Sunday.

Wallace finished on 10-under 278 - just ahead of Olesen, Mikko Korhonen and 2008 winner Martin Kaymer, whose chances took a blow with a bogey on the 17th hole.

''I want to keep building on this,'' Wallace said after his third European Tour win. ''Obviously this gives me a lot of confidence to go on and play well and I want to kick on and hopefully do this in the bigger events from now on.''


Full-field scores from the BMW International Open


Olesen had played himself into contention with the lowest round in tournament history, with nine birdies and an eagle for an 11-under 61. It was the lowest round of his European Tour career and it gave the Dane a three-shot lead before the final group had even teed off.

''I was just trying today to go out there and build on my game, see if I could shoot a low score,'' Olesen said. ''Obviously as the round progressed I kept on thinking birdies and trying to make the round better. Finishing with four birdies was pretty nice.''

Wallace turned in 34 but then made five birdies in seven holes from the turn to edge a shot past Olesen. He waited as Kaymer and Korhonen went close with rounds of 68 and 67, respectively.

England's Aaron Rai and Denmark's Lucas Bjerregaard finished joint-fifth with rounds of 69.

Sunghyun Park (left) and Minchel Choi (right). Getty Images

Choi, Park qualify for Carnoustie from Korean Open

By Nick MentaJune 24, 2018, 2:54 pm

Two players - Minchel Choi and Sanghyun Park - qualified for next month's Open Championship at Carnoustie via the Open Qualifying Series on Sunday.

Choi (69) held off Park (66) to win the Korean Open by two shots.

This was the Qualifying Series debut for the Korean Open, whiched awarded Open Championship exemptions to the tournament's top two finishers inside the top eight and ties who were not already qualified.

Choi, the 532nd-ranked player in the Official World Golf Ranking, punched his ticket in his first professional win.

Park, the 146th in the world, is a six-time Korean Tour champion who has already won twice this season. 

Both players will be making their first ever major starts.

“I am absolutely honored to be playing in The Open and I wanted to win this championship to give me [that] opportunity," Choi said. "I cannot believe that I have won today. I am so happy and excited."

“It is a great honor to have qualified for The Open and make my first appearance in the championship," Park added. "I’ve watched The Open on television every single year and I can’t really believe that I have qualified, it is amazing."

The Open Qualifying Series continues next week at the Open de France, where as many as three exemptions will be awarded to the three leading players inside the top 10 and ties who are not already qualified.

The 147th Open will be held at Carnoustie from July 19-22.

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Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 12:25 am

ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.

Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.

''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''

The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.


Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship


Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.

Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.

''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''

Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.

First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.