David Medina is something of a paradox. He plays golf by choice.
And, by necessity.
The simple truth of it is, Medina – who was fortunate to survive even his birth, had his first surgery at the age of 4 days, his second operation six days later, and spent the first eight weeks of his life in a hospital – is physically unable to play any sport except golf.
“It’s kind of sad,” Medina, an 18-year-old junior at Del Norte High School, said. “Because I like to do stuff that other teenage boys can do. But golf gives me that competitive edge I couldn’t get in any sport.” The number of medical setbacks that have challenged Medina makes for a lengthy list, which is far too voluminous to outline in anything but a medical journal.
As his health pertains to Medina’s appearance in today and Tuesday’s Class 4A state golf tournament at Piñon Hills Golf Course in Farmington, it’s his knees that are the complication.
Going back to Parochial league and AAU basketball, something clearly was amiss. He didn’t run the floor so much as shuffle his feet. By his early teens, he was diagnosed as having patella dysplasia in both knees. Both of them required surgery.
The rarity of his son’s knee condition is this:
“The two knee surgeries he’s had?” said his father, David Medina Sr.. “They are typical for a man who is 65, 70 years old. That’s why it’s remarkable.”
Today, Medina has something approximating chronic pain in both knees; after almost any golf activity, especially a full round, he’s hurting something fierce.
“Anytime I play golf, I have to ice them or they’ll be on fire the rest of the day,” he said. Usually, he’s got to take ibuprofen both before a round and at the turn to try and mitigate the pain.
Those tender knees are the reason he can’t play another sport (besides bowling), and why even in a basketball family he’s had to remain a passive observer.
“It started out really, really tough,” Medina said. “I wanted to play basketball so bad, because we’re a basketball family. When I figured out (I couldn’t do another sport), it was terrible. But when I started to play golf a little bit, I said, ‘Let’s try and do this,’ and that’s when I started to enjoy it.”
At 14, it was discovered that his diaphragmatic hernia repair – the aforementioned operation when he was 4 days old – has opened and would need to be fixed once more. After both his knees had been operated on, he required two years of physical therapy in order to make his knees strong enough just to play golf.
And his knees do impact his golf, make no mistake. His rivals routinely spank tee shots 40-50 yards past Medina, and that has forced Medina to adapt by becoming an excellent long iron/metal woods player, and to develop a sharp short game, since his opponents were approaching greens with much shorter irons. On top of that, his knees ache all the time, especially when it’s cold, and even when he uses a push cart.
Medina said he is unable to make a full turn in his swing, less he risk one of knees coming out of place. As a result, Medina is constantly having to retool his swing.
“It was tons of trial and error,” he said, “until we finally found the right swing I could use. It’s still going on now. I switch it from week to week, honestly. Whenever we find a new thing, (we) try it.”
Naturally, early results on the course were not great.
“When he first started, his first competition, I think he shot a 110,” said Medina’s father. “He’s come a long way.”
Said the younger Medina, “I’m extremely competitive. I’ve never been happy with a score at the end of a tournament.”
And while Medina won’t ever catch a touchdown pass for the Knights, or hit a walkoff home run, or bury a game-winning 3-pointer, his journey as a state-qualified golfer is one defined by persistence and patience.
“I’m extremely competitive when it comes to golf,” he said. “I’ve never been happy with a score at the end of a tournament. When I got into golf, I thought it wouldn’t be as competitive (as other sports), but then I got into it and realized that it is more competitive than any sport in high school.”
Despite the physical setbacks in his life, Medina’s golf game continues to bloom.
He earned no state qualifying legs as a freshman, and two last season, which was one short of the required three to get into the state tournament. But Medina accumulated five legs during the fall and spring for this week’s event, which will be the most important of his life.
“It’s a heck of an accomplishment,” said his father, who recently became the new girls basketball coach at Hope Christian. “For kids who are disabled or don’t have a chance, or when they think they don’t have a chance … you still do, especially in this game of golf.”
The elder Medina used the word disabled.
The younger Medina isn’t fond of that word.
“I don’t like to think of myself as disabled at all,” he said. “Because it makes me think I’m less. I don’t like the thought of golfers thinking (I’m) getting special treatment. I’m playing my game, they’re playing their game.”
His best score this season is 77. He is hoping for a top-10 finish at state.
Getting here is the reward, at least for now.
“I’m definitely proud of myself that I got to this point,” Medina said. “Starting out freshman year, I never thought I would get to this point. Ever. During my freshman and sophomore years, I would come in dead last and it would make me so mad. And so I finally got to this point and it feels amazing to be able to compete with these players and have respect from them.”
But if there is so much pain, why continue to play?
“I enjoy knowing that I’m good at something,” he answered. “When I started out, I was gonna quit my freshman year, because I wasn’t good at it. … When I started (getting) good, there’s just that feeling you have when you’ve accomplished something. And you want to keep chasing after that.”