Kyle Mendoza thought to pinch himself, but he resisted. Despite Mendoza slipping on his golf shoes countless times, this was different.
“My locker was right next to Rory,” Mendoza said. “I said ‘Hi’ to him but I’m thinking, ‘That is Rory McIlroy and this is crazy.’ ”
Mendoza would have been nuts to quit chasing a golf ball. He aspired to play in a PGA Tour event, and at age 33, it was mission accomplished at last week’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course.
Of course, Oceanside’s Mendoza had the jitters. Of course, he wouldn’t have traded those rattled nerves for the world.
“It was really cool,” Mendoza said.
When the PGA Tour visits North County, the focus is on the biggest stars with the boldest games. But for every McIlroy, there are thousands of others trying to make a name, too.
Mendoza, the director of performance at The Farms Golf Club in Rancho Santa Fe, had done his heavy lifting before the Farmers. He won the Southern California PGA Professional Championship that guaranteed an entry into the PGA’s American Express in Coachella Valley.
Mendoza swung a deal with another qualifier, swapping out the desert exemption for one at the seaside track not far from Mendoza’s digs.
“It was great being at home and sleeping in my own bed every night,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza’s debut wasn’t a 48-hour spin. He made the cut and pocketed $15,900 with his 4-over par 292, tying him for 65th.
It was clear Mendoza belonged. The ball-striker who’s deft with his short game competes with pros, and knows them, too.
“One of the cool parts of working where I work is quite a few tour players play there,” Mendoza said. “Phil Mickelson and Xander Schauffele are members.
“A couple of weeks before the Farmers I played a round with Phil at La Jolla Country Club. It can be a little nerve-wracking playing with a Hall of Famer, but it was nice to get that under my belt.”
Mendoza’s stories expand when mentioning Carmel Valley’s Schauffele.
“We played the (Torrey Pines) North the Sunday before the tournament and got in nine holes,” Mendoza said. “It was awesome because he is No. 5 in the world and playing with him a couple of times, especially at Torrey, was great preparation for me.”
Like being strong mentally. Especially when near the cut line with the second round winding down and a gale howling off the Pacific Ocean.
At the exposed No. 15 tee on the North, a missed shot and just maybe Mendoza is gone with the wind.
“There was a crosswind and it would have been the wrong time to hit a bad shot,” he said. “You could easily make five on that hole in those conditions.”
Instead of getting blown away, Mendoza struck a 5-iron to the green’s middle for par. He didn’t falter down the stretch to make his first cut in his first PGA Tour event.
Mendoza always had the drive and then some. He drove 100 miles, each way, for a year to a San Gabriel Valley country club before landing at The Farms.
Mendoza caught the golf bug at age 6 from his father, Steven, and tried to keep pace with his older brother, Mike. Mendoza’s journey, in many ways, had its biggest payoff at the Farmers.
Mendoza’s haul didn’t quite match winner Patrick Reed’s $1.35 million take. But someone’s wealth isn’t always calculated by numbers.
When Mendoza’s attempt to qualify for the PGA Tour in 2013 fizzled, he focused on golf’s business side. Then he started playing satellite tours and, somehow, that had him nestled next to McIlroy.
“The last couple of years my game has improved a lot,” Mendoza said. “That gave me the itch to play again.”
That itch nearly produced a pinch. But it was no dream as Mendoza proved, with perseverance, they really can come true.