Freshman Mendez setting high standard for U golfers

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 2, 2014 - 12:14 AM

Jose Mendez hopes the Gophers can finish in the top three in Big Ten meet.

 

Even during his years on the Nationwide Tour, John Carlson didn’t experience this level of celebrity. Last winter, while the Gophers golf coach was watching freshman Jose Mendez compete in a tournament in Nicaragua, Carlson got an up-close look at the influence his young Costa Rican prodigy was having on his sport.

“It was amazing to see the thrill on the faces of the young kids when they got to meet him and see him play,’’ said Carlson, in his third year as head coach. “I’d be in the elevator at the hotel, and the parents would say, ‘You’re the coach of Jose Mendez!’ That’s something we just don’t see very often. I think he’s starting a transformation in his country, and that’s really neat to see.’’

The only thing more gratifying to Carlson is witnessing the transformation Mendez has started with the Gophers. The 18-year-old has powered his team to three tournament titles this season, its best showing since 2003-04, and his two victories are the most by any Gophers golfer since Clayton Rask won a pair of tournaments in 2007-08.

Mendez’s fame grew considerably last July, when he won the Callaway Junior World Golf Championships — whose past champions include Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els. That earned him recognition as Costa Rica’s athlete of the year, a major accomplishment in a country with only 14 golf courses. His next ambition is boosting the Gophers into the top three at the Big Ten Championships, which begin Friday in French Lick, Ind.

“Our team is playing really good,’’ said Mendez, who leads the Gophers with a stroke average of 72.07 over the fall and spring seasons. “It feels amazing to help your team win a tournament, and it’s a lot of fun to compete and win with your teammates.

“I really wanted to go to college and get a degree and play golf. I know I have to improve a lot, and I’ve already made a lot of progress.’’

So have the Gophers. A program that won the NCAA title in 2002 had fallen off in recent years, finishing eighth at the Big Ten tournament in 2010 and 2011 and seventh in 2012. Carlson has revived it with a team of diligent, committed athletes who shared his belief that the Gophers should expect to be among the top three in the conference every season.

They got there in 2013, as Minnesotans Jon DuToit and Jon Trasamar helped them finish second. Mendez has lifted them further, with a well-rounded game and an easygoing manner.

Mendez said he chose the U because he wants to get a business degree before turning pro, and its academic offerings best suited him. Once he arrived, the coaching staff faced some uncharted territory — and so did Mendez.

“The amount he won as a junior golfer made it easy for him to step right into the lineup and be our top player,’’ Carlson said. “We knew it was going to be a challenge for us to deal with someone who really didn’t have any weaknesses in their game, which is very uncommon for a 17-year-old.

“But it’s a humbling experience when you come to the U.S. and play against the best players in the U.S. In the fall, he was finishing between eighth and 20th place, and he’s not used to that. We had to tell him that he would progress in his game, and he would see that in the spring.’’

Mendez said he has improved his strategy and consistency while honing his superb short game. He scored victories this spring in the Duck Invitational in Oregon and the Rutherford Intercollegiate at Penn State.

His celebrity also is spreading in a new country.

“We have young players in the top 100 rankings in the U.S. calling us,’’ Carlson said. “We had to knock down their doors the last couple of years to get them to think about us. I really want us to get back to relevance on the national scene, and we have.’’

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Houston 23 FINAL
Pittsburgh 30
San Diego 10/23/14 7:25 PM
Denver
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Cleveland
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 98 FINAL
Cleveland 107
New Orleans 88 FINAL
Washington 84
Milwaukee 120 FINAL
New York 107
Philadelphia 88 FINAL
Brooklyn 99
Charlotte 114 FINAL
Atlanta 117
Sacramento 99 FINAL
San Antonio 106
Memphis 103 FINAL
Dallas 108
Tampa Bay 2 FINAL
Edmonton 3
Arkansas State 7:00 PM
Louisiana
Connecticut 10/23/14 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 10/23/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 9:00 PM
California
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Montreal 10/24/14 5:30 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 10/24/14 8:30 PM
Calgary
Hamilton 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Winnipeg
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How will the Vikings and Gophers do this weekend?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close