ENCINITAS — Encinitas golfer Kent Menendez added another medal to his collection at the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month at Willows Run Golf Club in Redmond, Wash., bringing his total count to six gold and one silver.
For the first time in tournament play, the 28-year-old came in second, missing the top spot by one stroke in his level.
However, his score of 81 was the third highest overall, besting all but one golfer participating in the higher level.
“I think I could have done things a little better, but I’m happy with my performance,” Menendez said, adding that he was nervous and excited at the same time.
“I never played in a big tournament like that before in front of so many people and my family,” he added. “After the second hole I started calming down and started playing like I usually do.”
It didn’t help that the Seattle course challenged him far more than Encinitas Ranch, where he usually plays.
“It was much more demanding,” his father and caddie, Daniel Menendez, said. “There were a lot more trees. It was much more narrow. He had to shoot for position rather than distance.”
“I’m not used to that,” his son added.
Golfers from throughout the country played 18 holes on three consecutive days to practice, qualify and compete.
Menendez shot 79, 82 and 81, respectively.
“He and his coach had a plan and they stuck to it,” his father said. “He shot three very competitive scores in three days. The competition was very tight. There were no blowouts.”
Menendez was born with an intellectual disability and deals with auditory and cognitive processing issues. He was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder at 5.
Sidelined from playing flag football due to an injury, he started golfing when he was 8.
He and his dad watched a tournament on TV, then went to the athletic field at Oak Crest Middle School to hit some balls. He was hooked.
Menendez has taken lessons on and off since he was 12 and played on his high school golf team at San Dieguito Academy.
He’s played with Special Olympics since 2016 after his sister, a speech pathologist, did some research and “found out people with all disabilities can join,” he said.
Next month Menendez is moving to Oregon to be closer to his sister, her husband and his nieces. He plans to find a new coach and continue golfing in hopes that he will be invited to play in the 2019 World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
“So far they only took one golfer from nationals for that team,” he said.
“It seems logical they would take more than one person to represent the United States,” his dad added. “We’re still hoping the call will come.”
If not, Menendez will always have the memories from his time in Seattle.
“The whole city was really welcoming and supportive,” he said. “It was a lot of special time with my teammates — the camaraderie. I’m going to miss that, but it will last forever.”
The USA Games, which take place every four years, draw more than 4,000 athletes and coaches from all 50 states and the District of Columbia to compete in 14 sports.
The event held July 1-6 was the fourth running, with the inaugural games in Ames, Iowa, in 2006, followed by Lincoln, Nebraska, in 2010 and Lawrenceville, New Jersey, four years ago.