Article Courtesy of Duramed FUTURES Tour
She's No. 3 on the Duramed FUTURES Tour's money list with six top-10 finishes, while he's No. 3 on the Nationwide Tour's money list with five top-10s and two 2010 tournament wins.
And while they often compare notes about their lives on their respective golf tours, Gerina Mendoza and Martin Piller admit that they have made each other better ever since they met last November. Interestingly, the beginning of that relationship started with two competitive, unyielding individuals in a golf cart together during a "friendly" round set up by friends. He was determined to beat her badly, and she was determined not be intimidated by a male pro.
"Everybody told me how good she was and how far she hits the ball," said Piller, 24, of Dallas, who won The Stadion Athens (Ga.) Classic in May, and the Cox Classic two weeks ago in Nebraska on the Nationwide Tour. "I was going to just kill her out there and then rub it in."
Countered Mendoza, 25, of Roswell, N.M.: "I wasn't trying to impress him. I was just going to beat him with my sticks. I thought, 'Whatever. He's a punk.'"
But as the two counterpunched on the course that day with their best shots and matching swagger, things began to change in their golf cart.
"I was texting my friend and telling him to Google Gerina Mendoza," said Piller. "I told him that she was good and she's beautiful, and that I was riding in the cart with her."
And what was Mendoza thinking?
"When I met him, I figured he probably already had a girlfriend," she said. "I really just wanted to play golf with him and see what kind of game he had and how I measured up."
By the end of the round, Piller had learned that Mendoza played out of Lakewood Country Club in Dallas, a nice course that he had not played since age 13. At some point in the round Mendoza said he should come play golf with her at Lakewood, and he agreed.
So the two met at Lakewood and played golf. Piller was still trying to "kill her" but Mendoza held her own as the two toured the course playing from the same tees. That week, they practiced together, and Piller called her again because he "had to get i Laser Rangefiner back." It was a good excuse, anyway.
The two then visited "Top Golf" in Dallas, a recreational center where they could bowl, play darts and golf for scores, and they also went to a NASCAR race.
"You can't exactly talk there," laughed Mendoza.
What has worked for Mendoza and Piller is the fact that their lives are so strikingly similar. They learned that they had been practicing at the same golf course in Dallas and that they also attend the same church. Unbeknownst to them, they also learned that they had many of the same friends.
Professionally, both are young pros working hard, hoping to reach the highest levels in the sport. And both are already poised to transition to the next level. Piller locked up his spot on the 2011 PGA Tour with his two wins and No. 3 position in earnings. Already a 2010 LPGA Tour member, Mendoza can lock up her spot for full 2011 LPGA status if she remains in the top five in season earnings after two more events.
"We try not to talk about golf all the time," said Piller. "I think we both really understand the travel and the loneliness of our jobs, and how it is to be away from home so much. When we talk on the phone, I want to know what's going on with her as a person and in her heart."
Both are involved in Christian studies on their respective tours and value their faith in their personal lives. Together, they have completed on-line studies and compare notes about books they read.
"His Christian faith is the No. 1 reason I'm so drawn to him," said Mendoza, a third-year pro.
The two players see each other twice a month. Sometimes, Piller comes to Duramed FUTURES Tour events and caddies for Mendoza. Other times, she goes to his tournaments and follows in his gallery.
And while their tournament-week routines are largely identical in practice rounds, pro-ams, player functions and competition, Mendoza and Piller have found that their differences in how they each play the game have also proved beneficial in their personal bond and professional growth.
"It seems like the things he works on, I'm good at, and the things I work on, that's his strength," said Mendoza.
For example, through 17 events, Piller is currently ranked No. 1 on the Nationwide Tour for putting average with 1.7 putts (per hole), and he is ranked second in putts per round with an average of 28.73. Mendoza, on the other hand, currently is top-ranked on the Duramed FUTURES Tour in sub-par holes, birdies, par-5 average (4.665) and driving distance (averaging 267.11 yards).
"I learn a lot when I watch her play because her golf swing is really good," said Piller. "I didn't know how good her swing was until I saw it on videotape and then I realized that she couldn't get out of position with that swing if she tried. In fact, my swing coach looked at me when he saw it and said, 'Boy, you've got some work to do.'"
But Mendoza doesn't simply boast a good swing on the range. Piller said he was caddying for her in one tournament this year when she had a risky uphill shot from 220 yards. Piller admitted that he almost tried to talk Mendoza out of hitting a 4-wood, but when she used the club to hit a high cut shot around a tree to the middle of the green, the Texan knew then that Mendoza had a different gear under pressure.
"I didn't let her see it, but I was in awe," he said.
It's also a reciprocal feeling from Mendoza to watch Piller maneuver around a course in competition and roll in clutch putts when they matter most.
"I've learned so much from him about the mental side of the game," said Mendoza. "Playing golf is like gripping a bar of soap; if you grip it too tight, it will slip away. Martin's taught me not to make golf the end of the world and he's also helped me put things in the Lord's hands. You might as well have fun playing the game."
Unfortunately, with the two pros' respective tournament schedules, they miss a lot of important moments in each other's lives. The Duramed FUTURES Tour was in San Antonio while Piller was winning his first Nationwide Tour event in Georgia. After she completed play, Mendoza was watching the Nationwide Tour's Real-Time scoring and wearing out the refresh button. And after he won, she waited patiently for him to call, knowing that he was doing post-round interviews with the media, signing autographs and posing for photographers.
"Obviously, I wish I could have been there for his first win," she said.
"I couldn't wait to call her," said Piller, who was delayed by Tour responsibilities for 2½ hours before he could call. "I was so tickled because I'd missed the two previous cuts."
Mendoza was equally excited when Piller carded a 62 in his Saturday round and added a 7-under 64 on Sunday to win his second tournament two weeks ago in Omaha, Neb.
But in the times when they are finally reunited, it's not the birdies they talk about. They catch up and laugh a lot. And Piller has steadily encouraged Mendoza, who has had three runner-up finishes this season, as she hunts for her first win on the Duramed FUTURES Tour.
"I hope she continues to love it because sometimes it's easy to get bitter toward the game," said Piller, who played collegiately at Texas A&M University.
"Because of Martin, a lot of the pressure I've put on myself is gone," added Mendoza, who played collegiately at the University of Texas at El Paso. "I guess my ability outraced my confidence and I had to learn to focus on things I can control. I wouldn't have gotten to this point in my career if I weren't good."
And together, Mendoza and Piller appear to be a formidable pairing. There's still no love lost when they play golf together, but both pros appear to be well on their way to the two "big" tours, albeit with a shared dream.