Swinging for the Pros

“Welcome ladies and gentlemen to this year’s PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP. Now stepping to the tee, please give a warm welcome, from Jacksonville, Florida, Brandon Mancheno.”

Oh how Mancheno would like to hear those words. The 18-year-old recent graduate from Mandarin High School knows that he won’t hear such a greeting any time soon. First, there is a four-year stint at Auburn University, followed by the PGA Tour qualifying school and eventually his tour card. Once all that comes to fruition however, Mancheno would welcome listening to such a phrase.

“To be honest, I haven’t thought about it that much, but it would really be cool to play in that event one day,” Mancheno said. “You would realize that you’ve made it in golf if you could play in The Players. That’s one of the biggest tournaments each year. It would be really cool for my family and friends to be out there for that.”

One might say that it would complete the cycle that started for Mancheno when he was just 4 years old. That’s when his father, Robert, would take his youngest son with him to the driving range at NAS Jacksonville Golf Course, a military facility located at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station where Robert is employed in the public works division on the base.

Mancheno said that was all his son wanted to do as a youngster – play golf.

“He didn’t want to do race tracks, play other sports or have me read him books,” said his father, a former scratch golfer himself. “He asked me to read him Golf Digest and he would say, ‘I can do that, I can do that.’ Just by looking at the pictures.”

Turns out, young Mancheno knew what he was talking about. His ability to play the game was shown early. For instance, when he was 12 years old and he won the NAS-Jax club championship, beating out a number of adult golfers. That’s when Dad knew his son’s game was something special.

It got better as he progressed to high school. His freshman year at Mandarin he was the team’s No. 1 player, a spot he held for four seasons. He didn’t make it to the state tournament that first year but he did the following three years. He improved his finish each year in going from a 9th place finish as a sophomore to 5th place in his junior season to finishing as medalist in the 3A state tournament as a senior. He became the first Duval County public school state champion in the last 49 years and was named the Florida Times-Union’s Boys Golfer-of-the-Year.

Mancheno has taken advantage of his golf skills to tour the United States as well as on an international basis. He was a member of the United States team that finished first in the 2017 TOYOTA Junior Golf World Cup played in Toyota City, Japan this past June. Competing against the world’s top golfers in the 15-18 age group, Mancheno finished ninth in the elite field. It marked his first international competition and was the first time that he had ever been out of the United States.

“That tournament was so organized,” he said. “The interest there was really great with big crowds all four days. It was tough with the time adjustment though. It took me about three days to get adjusted.”

His first world event behind him, Mancheno is now focused on his career at Auburn. He chose the SEC school over three local quality programs in North Florida, Florida and Florida State – three schools that are much closer to his family and friends in Jacksonville.

“I’ve been committed to Auburn since my sophomore year,” he said. “The campus was really nice, the practice facilities were ridiculously nice – they’re probably the best in the country in my opinion, and the coaching staff is really great. Auburn is a top 10 golf program in the country and is the place where I can take my game to another level.”

Mancheno is looking to follow the lead of a number of former Auburn golfers who have taken their talents to the next level. Three former Tigers golfers are listed in the top 100 FedEx Cup rankings, including Blayne Barber, Dominic Bozzelli and Patton Kizzire. Several others are now playing on either the Web.com Tour or the Swing Thought Tour. It’s a path Mancheno would like to follow until one day realizing his dream of playing on the PGA Tour. First however, is getting his degree at Auburn.

“A college degree is important to have in case things don’t turn out for golf, but my focus in attending Auburn for four years will be to better my golf game,” said Mancheno, who will major in public administration in college. “I want to do the best I can in golf and eventually turn professional. I’ll definitely go to qualifying school and then turn pro.”

“That’s my dream, my main goal ever since I was a young kid,” he said. “Tiger [Woods] was a big influence on me growing up. He was my idol growing up and still kind of is for golf.”

Mancheno’s game is close to perfection compared to the average elite player. He boasts a plus-4.7 handicap, which means a normal round of golf for him on a par-72 course would be a 67 or 68. He shares Woods’ strength off the tee where he consistently hits drivers in the 300-320 range. There’s few problems with the long irons either. But the short game – chipping and putting – has been his Achilles. And then there’s the mental aspect of the game.

“My dad first taught me about having patience with this game and that’s still hard for me to do at times,” he said. “I get a little hot-headed sometimes like all young kids, but I’ve learned to let it go, forget about a bad shot and move on to the next shot. I use to be pretty bad about it but I’ve matured and have learned not to let it bother me.”

Once Mancheno fully learns to temper his patience and hone in on his short game, the road to The Players Championship may be shorter than he thinks.

Swinging for the Pros

By Jeff Elliott