PGA Professional Mike Mandakas grew up in the Chicagoland area, attending Hoffman Estates High School before a successful collegiate golf career at William Woods University in Missouri. After becoming a teaching pro, Mike founded The Players Club of Chicago, a golf improvement facility that includes a driving range and teaching academy with locations in Justice and Grayslake. In 2012, he took on the challenge of forming the new men’s and women’s golf teams at Saint Xavier University on Chicago’s south side.
Interviewer: Walter Lis. Running Time: 22:08
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WL: Can you give a little overview of how you got involved with St. Xavier and what exactly are all the things you’re doing with the university?
MM: Well, the fact that working in private clubs and not really having the chance to add more exposures then just at the private club level, opening my own facility gave me the opportunity to do other things as well. So when I heard about the program starting and I was contacted from the athletic director asking if I’d be interested in being interviewed for the position I was real excited about it and going through the process I learned a little bit about the school and kind of what they were looking to create. And then I gave them my ideas and just came down to I guess they liked my pedigree to come in and start the men’s program in 2012 in the fall of 2012. Then to set up the launch of our women’s program which will start in the fall of 2013.
So from the beginning there was a lot of recruiting around locally around the US and even outside of the United States bring in the best talents I could on the men’s side. And then give me an extra year to recruit for the women to bring in for this coming year. So as far as how the men’s started, we started out in the fall last year and looking over pretty much all the top schools in our region we actually, I was told we had more top 3 finishes than any other team in the Mid-west. So unfortunately we did not advance to the national championship but the program started out very well.
WL: How were you able to put together a men’s golf team from scratch and get this type of quality talent. What was the selling tools that you used? What components of the university or how were you able to get such high quality players so quickly?
MM: Well the fact that St. Xavier didn’t have, there’s not track history of anything related to golf I had to kind of use my own personal name out there to attract people and basically put forth a, I should say a program, in which basically me as a golf professional I know what I need to do to play at the highest level that I can. And so bringing in young high school golfers into college pretty much setting up a program from the physical standpoints and the mental standpoints and the golfability is creating program from putting that all together and to try to get them to the highest level.
Then selling that to the recruits and using different recruiting websites and fellow golf professionals in the area and across the country who teach a lot of young athletes and just kind of getting the word out is the biggest thing. Once I have the contact it’s just selling them on myself, my teaching philosophies, our workout philosophies, pretty much anything the school has to offer outside of golf. Then really the biggest thing is my facility is pretty much giving them access, pretty much full access to my facility as far as practicing and my instruction as well as some of my assistants’ instruction as well. So putting that all together added with the fact that we play at three private country clubs, you know, it creates a pretty good package as far as in comparison to other programs.
WL: So, was the bulk of, you know, your training and practice throughout I’m assuming the winter too. Did the bulk of it take place at your facility in Justice? Or was it spread out or where did typically the practice sessions take place?
MM: Well, from the minute that they stepped on the campus in August through pretty much the end of October we were outdoors about 90% of the time not including our workout programs, early morning workouts, and evening workouts. Outside of that it was pretty much based off of the three golf courses that we play at; Ridge Country Club, Beverly Country Club and Ruth Lake Country Club. So playing on those courses, playing in our competitions and then really in our other time we’re at my facility, Chicago Players Club and we are practicing.
And then in the winter time it’s about 90% indoors as we put in a golf simulator in one of the racquetball courts. So it gives the team access so they don’t have to leave campus. They can practice indoors, hit into a simulator. We can do our lessons in there. They can practice on their own. Then we do a lot of workouts that include hitting golf balls so a short walk from the fitness center to the racquetball court where the simulator is and kind of going back and forth doing a lot of core exercise and strengthening exercises.