No sophomore slump for Gophers’ star

Betsy Helfand

As a freshman, Jose Mendez tied for the individual crown at last year’s Big Ten championships.

This season, Mendez has picked up right where he left off, as he’s finished in the top 10 of his first two tournaments.

Mendez said he took some time off from competing in tournaments after a hectic freshman year.

“I just [took] the summer because our last season was really a lot of time. It was a lot of stress, so I just took a little [time] off,” Mendez said.

And the break has seemed to work out well for him.

The star sophomore finished tied for fifth in Minnesota’s first tournament of the fall and second in the Gophers’ second tournament.

“Everyone tries to win every event they play in, but he has a realistic shot to win every single event, which is really impressive,” head coach John Carlson said. “He’s just 18 years old. … He’s got a great future ahead of him.”

In between the two competitions, Mendez boarded a plane and headed to Japan to compete in the World Amateur Team Championships for his native Costa Rica.

Costa Rica finished 44th out of 67 countries competing, but Mendez led the team, finishing 5-under par.

Mendez said he was jetlagged when he got back and slept from 8 p.m. to noon the next day. But he came back and competed in the Windon Memorial days later, nearly winning it.

Mendez held a lead after the first two rounds before struggling on the first nine holes of his third round and then rebounding.

“It seemed like going into his last round, he wasn’t nervous at all [at the Windon Memorial],” sophomore teammate Matt Rachey said.

Rachey said Mendez is very confident in his game.

“He knows that when he’s playing his best … he can beat anyone in the field, or even in the country,” Rachey said.

Mendez posted seven top-10 finishes as a freshman, and has continued as Minnesota’s leader on the golf course.

“When you have one of the best players in the country on your team, you try to take as much away from it as you can,” Rachey said. “I try to take a lot of how he controls his golf ball. He hits it very, very straight, and he knows what every shot is going to look like.”

And the good thing for Minnesota is that his collegiate career is still young.

Carlson said Mendez’s distance control is even better than it was last year and he’s putting at an even higher level.

“He can win every single college event that he plays, and it’s clear to all of our competitors that he’s one of the top players in the tournament every time he tees it up,” Carlson said.