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KENT MENENDEZ, a Cardiff resident who plays out of Encinitas Ranch Golf Course, earned a silver medal at this month’s Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle. Courtesy photo
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Encinitas golfer an ace at Special Olympics USA Games

Kent Menendez leans on his driver for length and a good story.

The Cardiff resident is fresh from earning a silver medal at this month’s Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle. The steely competitor who plays out of Encinitas Ranch Golf Course is known for being pretty decent off the tee.

But when eyeing the narrow Willows Run Golf Course in Redmond, Washington, it was clear that accuracy eclipsed length. So Kent Menendez, for the most part, kept his driver in the bag and relied on his three wood and three iron.

“On this course, it’s more about position than distance,” Dan Menendez said.

Dan is Kent’s father and the pair were quite the twosome at Willows Run. With Kent Menendez, 28, bringing the club back only after consulting with pops, they shined on the Special Olympics’ national stage.

“We had a game plan on how we wanted to approach it,’’ he said. “I think it worked out pretty well.’’

That it did as the younger Kent, who played two years at San Dieguito Academy, was just among three San Diego County athletes to be included. Kent Menendez held his own after dominating at the Southern California level, where he won gold medals the past two years.

“We did better than we thought we would because we really had no idea how it would work out,” Dan Menendez said. “He had never entered an event like this, with competitors from all 50 states. It was a grind.”

Kent Menendez shrugged, put his strokes to the grindstone and went to work in the level 5 category. He carded scores of 79, 82 and 81.

“It was huge, a really big event,” Kent Menendez said. “I had never competed in something like that before.’’

He didn’t blink, although his father did on a rare hole in which his son broke out his driver. When Kent Menendez blasted an effort 312 yards, his father had to count off the yardage, twice.

“He’s usually around 240-260 yards,” Dan Menendez said. “He did get a good bounce, but more importantly, he got it in a good spot, too.’’

The Menendez men are in a good place while traipsing around golf courses. The two share a love for the game that has created a bond that is as evident as it is strong.

Kent Menendez, who is developmentally disabled, watched golf with his dad on TV while growing up. He was drawn into the game by Tiger Woods’ dominance.

Once bitten, Kent Menendez gravitated to golf and that has lifted both him and his father. He got involved in Special Olympics three years ago, thanks to a loving push from his sister, Kiffen.

“If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have any of these medals,” said Kent Menendez, who is employed by Goodwill Industries.

And if not for golf, maybe Kent Menendez wouldn’t have that time which he cherishes most.

“When I’m out on the course, I don’t think of work or my personal life or anything for four hours,” said Kent Menendez, who is coached by Encinitas Ranch’s Rob Faber. “It’s just me going against the golf course and I really enjoy it.”

Golf can be frustrating, but its rewards are real. Just like the benefits of Special Olympics and we’re not talking about numbers on a scorecard.

“Special Olympics gives him a great sense of worth, as well as the friendships and the social value he gets out of it is really something that he takes to heart,” Dan Menendez said.

It’s something the driven Kent Menendez can put alongside his sweet accomplishment in the Special Olympics USA Games, even if he seldom used his beloved driver.

Contact Jay Paris at [email protected] Follow him @jparis_sports