One Man's Story

By Mercer BaggsJuly 7, 2009, 4:00 pm
Golf in America
Chip Mendela has a story he wants you to hear.
It starts with him lying on his doctor’s table and … well, it’s his story.
“He [the doctor] comes in and tells me that I have a bad blockage in my LED [main heart artery],” says Mendela, “and I thought, ‘No way.’ I didn’t believe him at first.”
Mendela had reason to doubt: he was a seemingly, physically fit police officer who was only 36 years old. He only went to see his physician because he was experiencing severe chest pains in the aftermath of being involved in a horrific hostage situation.
Chip Mendela
Chip Mendela
His doctor, however, made him a believer.
“He said, ‘You are going to have a heart attack and you are going to die,’” Mendela recalls. “That woke me up.”
It was at that precise moment, after those exact words that Mendela experienced an epiphany.
“I was lying there on that table,” he says, “and I just decided right there: ‘Once I get over this I know what I’m going to do.’”
What Mendela decided upon was what millions of people dream about every day: playing golf professionally.
Mendela, a self-described scratch golfer, was three months removed from winning the Connecticut Public Links Championship when he had his surgery in January, 2002. It had long been in the back of his mind: “How good can I get?”
“When I was a cop,” the Bristol, Conn., native and resident says, “I’d sit there on Sundays and watch the guys on the Nationwide Tour and I’d say to myself, ‘I used to play with that guy. That could be me out there.’”
Mendela didn’t have to quit his day job in order to pursue his dream; the surgery ended his 14-year police career. In the wake of the procedure, he developed complications including a stroke and 30 percent loss of vision in his right eye.
His reaction to it all: 'Oh well, I'll take it. At least I'm still breathing.'
Mendela does optimism like Janice Dickinson does scary. That's why it doesn't matter to him if some view his dream as delusion. He believes it to be possible. And, 'giving up is not an option.'
Mendela eventually recovered from his post-op set-back and took a job as an assistant pro at Chippanee Golf Club. A year thereafter, in 2004, he finally reached his goal of becoming a touring professional.
Now 38, Mendela raised $20,000 from donors which included family, friends and Chippanee members. The idea was to earn back that same sum, return it to the investors and then give them a 50-50 split of all extra income made.
Mendela played 22 events during a 30-week span in '04, including nine tournaments on the now defunct Cleveland Golf Tour. As it turned out, he would have been better off investing that money in Enron stock.
“At my first event I said to myself: ‘I am in way over my head. What am I doing here?’ It was a shock as to how good these guys were. It was amazing. Every week someone would shoot 63 and I’m saying to myself: ‘I wish I could just shoot 72,’” he tells.
“By the end of the year I was a basket-case. I was embarrassed. I felt like I was just wasting people’s money being out there.”
The following year, he ponied up $15,000 of his own money and played professional tournaments in the New England area. He started to score better, carding some rounds in the 60s, but he and his wife had a second child and, as Mendela says, “It's tough to make birdies playing with scared money. Eventually the money started to run out and family came first.”
Chip’s wife, Kim, is a dental hygienist. She works close to 30 hours a week and is the primary source of income for the family. Chip currently works in the pro shop at Tumble Brook Country Club in Bloomfield, but clocks in only 15-20 hours a week and takes home no more than $150.
“I’d love to work more hours, but it’s the times,” he says. “It’s just not there.”
The family, which includes sons Evan, 8, and Chase, 3, makes due thanks to Chip’s retirement pension and medical benefits. Kim’s father, Norman Martin, spends his summers in nearby Plainville, and helps take care of the kids.
Kim offers more than just financial support; she backs her husband and his desire to play golf professionally. But at the same time she reminds him, “You’ve been doing this a long time; you’re not getting any younger.”
“She’s conservative,” Chip says. “She’s not a risk taker. I am. Certainly now.”
Kim offers no argument.
'I don't do well with change; I'm very regimented,' she says. 'I'm definitely the stress of the family. I worry about money, because financially it's very difficult and very frustrating.'
Chip has thought about getting a different job in order to earn more income, but the way things are now he gets to practice, play regularly and stay close to the game – and get closer to his dream.
Asked if he’s ever thought about giving up, he responds quickly: “Never. It’s not even a question. It’s just a little slow right now. Just a lack of sponsors.”
Kim sometimes wishes her husband would turn his drive in another direction, but in their current situation the family can pay its bills and afford to send their kids to a private school. As long as those things don't change, she has every intention of standing by his side, just as she's always done.
'I honestly don't see him ever giving up,' she says. 'I've never met anybody as passionate about something as he is about golf. ... I knew I'd be a golf widow, but never to this extreme.
'If only this came at a different time in life, earlier when we didn't have kids. But life ... you can't control what life is going to throw at you. He's taught me that this is the only life we have and we have to live it to the fullest.'
'But,' she adds, 'family comes first, and he feels the same way.'
Chip, now 44, has his sights set on the Champions Tour. He knows the difficulty of that challenge, as getting exempt on the senior circuit is harder than Leona Helmsley’s heart.
He also knows that he has to get better, which he believes he can only do by getting more experience, playing in more events. Doing that, of course, requires money. Mendela estimates that, with tournament entry fees running up to $1,100, it would cost him over $1,500 per event.
That’s money that he and his family simply don’t have. So like countless other professional hopefuls he seeks sponsorship, something he hasn't done in recent years due to injuries and feeling his game wasn't 100 percent.
“I’ve talked with sports agents,” he says. “In an act of desperation I’ve written letters to Kenny Perry and Phil Mickelson, just asking for their advice on how to get a few sponsorship doors opened so I can make my sales pitch.”
Mendela, in his own words, is “small pickins.” He's just another wannabe, like all those countless others trying to make a living playing golf.
But he’s not like those others, not in his eyes. And he wants you to see that as well.
“I’m not supposed to be here. I should be dead,” he says. “I got a second chance and I want to pursue the dream. I know there are a million mini-tour guys out there, trying to do what I’m trying to do.
“But I got a story.”
'Golf in America' airs on Golf Channel Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET.
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    Lewis hopes to win at Volvik with baby on the way

    By Randall MellMay 27, 2018, 12:55 am

    Stacy Lewis was listening to more than her caddie on her march up the leaderboard Saturday at the Volvik Championship.

    Pregnant with her first child, she is listening to her body in a new way these days.

    And she could hear a message coming through loud and clear toward the end of her round at Travis Point Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich.

    “The little one was telling me it’s dinnertime,” Lewis said.

    Lewis birdied five of the last six holes to shoot 5-under-par 67 and move into position to make a Sunday run at winning her 13th LPGA title. She is two shots behind the leader, Minjee Lee, whose 68 moved her to 12 under overall.

    Sunday has the makings of a free for all with 10 players within three shots of the lead.

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    Lewis, 33, is four months pregnant, with her due date Nov. 3. She’s expecting to play just a few more times before putting the clubs away to get ready for the birth. She said she’s likely to make the Marathon Classic in mid-July her last start of the season before returning next year.

    Of course, Lewis would relish winning with child.

    “I don’t care what limitations I have or what is going on with my body, I want to give myself a chance to win,” she told at the Kingsmill Championship last week.

    Lewis claimed an emotional victory with her last title, taking the Cambia Portland Classic late last summer after announcing earlier in the week that she would donate her entire winnings to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in her Houston hometown.

    A victory Sunday would also come with a lot of emotion.

    It’s been an interesting year for Lewis.

    There’s been the joy of learning she’s ready to begin the family she has been yearning for, and the struggle to play well after bouncing back from injury.

    Lewis missed three cuts in a row before making it into the weekend at the Kingsmill Championship last week. That’s one more cut than she missed cumulatively in the previous six years. In six starts this year, Lewis hasn’t finished among the top 50 yet, but she hasn’t felt right, either.

    The former world No. 1 didn’t make her second start of 2018 until April, at the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration. She withdrew from the HSBC Women’s World Championship in late February with a strained right oblique muscle and didn’t play again for a month.

    Still, Lewis is finding plenty to get excited about with the baby on the way.

    “I kind of had my first Mother’s Day,” Lewis told last week. “It puts golf into perspective. It makes those bad days not seem so bad. It helps me sleep better at night. We are just really excited.”

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    Rose hasn't visited restroom at Colonial - here's why

    By Nick MentaMay 27, 2018, 12:20 am

    In case you're unaware, it's pretty hot in Texas.

    Temperatures at Colonial Country Club have approached 100 degrees this week, leaving players to battle both the golf course and potential dehydration.

    With the help of his caddie Mark Fulcher, Fort Worth Invitational leader Justin Rose has been plenty hot himself, staking himself to a four-shot lead.

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    "Yeah, Fulch has done a great job of just literally handing me water bottle after water bottle. It seems relentless, to be honest with you," Rose said Saturday.

    So just how much are players sweating the heat at Colonial? Well, it doesn't sound like all that water is making it all the way through Rose.

    "I haven't even seen the inside of a restroom yet, so you can't even drink quick enough out there," he shared.

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    Up four, Rose knows a lead can slip away

    By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 11:21 pm

    Up four shots heading into Sunday at the Fort Worth Invitational, Justin Rose has tied the largest 54-hole lead of his PGA Tour career.

    On the previous two occasions he took a 54-hole Tour lead into the final round, he closed.

    And yet, Rose knows just how quickly a lead can slip away. After all, it was Rose who erased a six-shot deficit earlier this season to overtake Dustin Johnson and win the WGC-HSBC Championship. 

    "I think I was in the lead going into the final round in Turkey when I won, and I had a four-shot lead going into the final round in Indonesia in December and managed to put that one away," Rose said Saturday, thinking back to his two other victories late last year.

    "I was five, six back maybe of DJ, so I've got experience the other way. ... So you can see how things can go both ways real quick. That's why there is no point in getting too far ahead of myself."

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    Up one to start the third round Saturday, Rose extended his lead to as much as five when he birdied four of his first six holes.

    He leads the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green (+12.853) and strokes gained: approach-the-green (+7.931).

    Rose has won five times worldwide, including at the 2016 Rio Olympics, since his last victory in the United States, at the 2015 Zurich Classic.

    With a win Sunday, he'd tie Nick Faldo for the most PGA Tour wins by an Englishman post-World War II, with nine.

    But he isn't celebrating just yet.

    "It is a big lead, but it's not big enough to be counting the holes away. You've got to go out and play good, you've got to go out positive, you've got to continue to make birdies and keep going forward.

    "So my mindset is to not really focus on the lead, it's to focus on my game tomorrow and my performance. You know, just keep executing the way I have been. That's going to be my challenge tomorrow. Going to look forward to that mindset."

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    Grillo still hunting follow-up to debut win

    By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 10:53 pm

    Following a round of 1-under 69 Saturday, Emiliano Grillo will enter Sunday's final round at Colonial four shots behind leader Justin Rose.

    Grillo is hunting his first win since he took the 2015 Safeway Open in his rookie debut as a PGA Tour member. 

    The young Argentinian finished 11th in the FedExCup points race that season, contending in big events and finishing runner-up at the 2016 Barclays.

    In the process, Grillo had to learn to pace himself and that it can be fruitless to chase after success week to week.

    "That was a hot run in there," Grillo said Saturday, referring to his rookie year. "I played, in 2016, I played the majors very well. I played the big tournaments very well. I was in contention after two, three days in most of the big events.

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    "I think, you know, I wanted to do better. I pushed for it. Some of the tournaments I ended up being 50th or 60th just because I wanted to play. I wanted to play well so badly. That played against me, so I learned from that. In that rookie year, I learned that."

    Grillo was still plenty successful in his sophomore season, advancing to the BMW Championship last fall.

    But now he's beginning to regain some of that form that made him such an immediate success on Tour. Grillo has recorded four top-10 finishes year - a T-9 at Mayakoba, a T-8 at Honda, a T-3 at Houston, and a T-9 at Wells Fargo - and will now look to outduel U.S. Open champs in Rose and Brooks Koepka on Sunday at Colonial.

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    "He's in the lead on a Sunday. Doesn't matter where you're playing, he's got to go out and shoot under par. He's got 50 guys behind him trying to reach him, and I'm one of those. I've just got to go out and do what he did today on those first five or six holes and try to get him in the early holes."