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York's Hendrickson shifts his focus to another pro sport — golf

PATRICK STROHECKER
YorkDispatch

Mark Hendrickson's physical appearance has the look of a gifted athlete.

Standing at 6 feet, 9 inches, with a lean, but muscular, frame, it would seem almost a waste if the Yorker wasn't an athlete. Hendrickson, however, didn't have a gift in just one sport. In fact, it wasn't only two, either.

"I think on the celebrity golf tour, there's a lot of events that former celebrities, I should say former athletes, can play in," he said during Monday's 27th annual York County Special Olympics Celebrity Golf Classic at Out Door Country Club. "So, for me, it's just a matter of getting used to a summer without baseball and working on the golf game a bit."

Depending on what sport you follow more closely, Hendrickson can either be recognized as a former NBA player or former MLB pitcher.

Growing up in Washington, Hendrickson excelled in both sports, enough so that he was selected in the 13th round of the 1992 MLB Draft. But he declined the chance to turn pro and instead attended Washington State University, where he shined in both baseball and basketball. He continued to gain the attention of MLB teams, getting selected in each of the next five MLB Drafts through 1997.

Major league teams were 0-for-6 in signing him, but the Philadelphia 76ers were 1-for-1 when it selected him with the 31st overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft. He played with four NBA teams over the course of four seasons, but after struggling to find consistent work in the NBA, he chose to focus on baseball. From there, he played for five different MLB organizations from 2002 to 2011, appearing in 328 games at the highest level. Most recently, he played for the Baltimore Orioles and is one of 12 players in history to play in both the NBA and MLB.

Trying to become pro in third sport: After retiring from baseball back in March of this year, he's now trying to make it professionally in a third sport — golf.

"I think, next year, the pursuit, hopefully, is just an outlet for me competitively," Hendrickson said about the prospects of pursuing a professional golf career. "...Now, the opportunity is there to come out and play a little bit."

His background says all that needs to be said about his supreme athleticism. But, when he steps on a golf course, just the way he plays the game takes it to another level.

As a basketball player and a pitcher, he did everything left-handed. On the golf course, however, he taught himself how to play right-handed, because it was easier to find right-handed clubs when he started playing the game in fourth grade.

So, from tee to green, he looks like most other golfers, playing right-handed. But, when he addresses his ball for putts, he does so from the left side. He said it confuses his playing partners during rounds, but it's just a method that is more comfortable for him as a golfer.

He also said that the other benefit to playing golf right-handed was that it never messed up his baseball swing, which he performed from the left side of the plate.

A lot of professional athletes play golf as a hobby and some can become very good. Athletes such as Tony Romo, Tom Glavine and Wayne Gretzky have all developed strong golf games when they weren't in their respective sports' season.

Similarities between golf, baseball: For Hendrickson, he sees the similarities between baseball and golf, especially as a pitcher.

"You see a lot of baseball players, especially pitchers, who are very good at golf," he said. "I think the similarities between those two professions are very similar. It's one shot at a time and not getting ahead of yourself, and I think, in baseball, it's very similar as a pitcher. You can't get ahead of yourself. You can only control what you can do, and that's the next pitch."

While the dream of becoming a professional in an unprecedented third sport is still in the very early stages, Hendrickson may have a legitimate shot to make it a reality. While he didn't reveal a specific number, he did confirm that he is a single-digit handicap player and wants to work over the next several months to get it down to where he's a scratch golfer.

And, just like in baseball and basketball, his dreams for his golf career are just the same. He wants to play at the game's highest level, which, in his eyes, is the U.S. Open, coined the "toughest test in golf," which will return to Pennsylvania next year at Oakmont Country Club in Latrobe.

"I've given myself this year to work on it and hopefully next year I can get in some tournaments," he said. "Ideally, I'm looking to try to qualify for the Open next year, here in Pennsylvania."

— Reach Patrick Strohecker at pstrohecker@yorkdispatch.com