Suffice it to say, Gerina Mendoza wasn’t particularly impressed the first time she met her future husband.
NASCAR was in town, and she and Martin Piller, as well as several other Dallas area pros, had been invited to network and play golf with members of Ryan Newman’s pit crew.
Gerina knew who Martin was because they both practiced and played at Sherrill Park, one of the top municipal courses in the Metroplex. But they had never met before that Friday in November of 2009.
On Saturday, the groups were switched up, and Gerina and Martin ended up riding in the same cart. To say it was not love at first sight is probably an understatement.
“He was just being very overconfident,” Gerina says. “He’d hit a shot and he’d say, oh, I hate hitting it dead perfect every time. I was like, oh my gosh, that’s so annoying. I can’t wait for this round to be over.”
When the round was over, though, Martin asked for Gerina’s phone number. At the very least, he wanted to play at Lakewood Country Club, a well-known course in downtown Dallas, and she was a member there.
“I was really honest,” Gerina recalls. “I said if you’re going to ask me out you might as well do it now so I can say no and we can just be friends. He took my number and walked away and I was like, yes, it worked.”
But Martin called, and the two played at Lakewood the following week. This time, Gerina says, “he was a little less annoying,” and the two began to hang out. Golf was obviously common ground but the two also liked doing things like playing Slug Bug – they have a running game that has lasted since 2009 – and watching “The Office.”
Turns out, they belonged to the same church, too, and their strong faith was another bond.
Both were soon headed to Q-School in Florida; Martin to West Palm Beach and Gerina to Daytona. He asked Gerina to listen to a podcast series on Christian romance from the Song of Solomon with him, and that “kind of threw me over the edge,” she says with a smile.
“And I was just like, really? At the time, I was a Christian but I was rededicating myself to the Lord, and to have a guy pursue me in that way was pretty awesome,” Gerina recalls.
“So we just kind of got our hearts in the same place after that. I knew that I was going to marry him.”
The following August, Martin proposed to Gerina. The ring was in a box in the top pocket of his golf bag, and Martin asked her to help him find a particularly interesting golf ball he’d found earlier in the day.
Gerina looked in the pocket and saw the box, but quickly zipped it back up thinking she’d found something she shouldn’t have. Martin told her to look again, then dropped on one knee. The couple married the following January.
Although they share a profession – Gerina, who is pregnant, is taking a year off from the LPGA Tour, and following Martin in his third season on the PGA TOUR -- the two manage to keep golf on the back burner when they are together.
Both understand the rhythm and requirements of playing and practice days, as well as the pro-am and sponsor obligations. Being able to leave the game behind and concentrate on each other was crucial to their courtship.
“I know what he does every day,” Gerina says. “When I called him I wanted to know how he is as a person. Did you do anything fun today? Just be more purposeful in our conversations and not so surface level like, oh, let’s just talk about golf today because that’s going to get old because you do it all day long.
“That’s the last thing you want to talk about. It’s like anything if a husband and wife are both dentists you don’t go home and talk about patients all day and fillings and cavities and whatnot.”
Gerina says their golf swings couldn’t be more opposite but that doesn’t stop them from picking each other’s brain. Among her strengths is her ball-striking while Martin is a great putter. He has six wins on the Web.com Tour while Gerina, who played in the 2016 Olympics and the Solheim Cup last year, has yet to win as a pro.
Of course, Gerina says, Martin could stand to show a little more emotion – at least that’s what some people think. And she experienced that first-hand once when she made a hole-in-one and Martin was sitting behind the green.
“I didn’t see it go in because the pin was over a little hump,” Gerina recalls. “So I’m walking up to the green and I go, where’d my ball go? He’s like, oh, it’s in the hole. And I was like, well, are you going to tell me, and he’s like, well, that’s where you’re aimed, right? I’m like, oh my gosh, that’s typical Martin to have a response like that.
“But the cool thing about it is I know that his love isn’t based off of how I play and he doesn’t get too high and he doesn’t get too low. If I’m playing really, really well, he’s not like oh, gosh, you’re amazing and if I’m not playing very well he’s not like, aww. His demeanor doesn’t change.
“That’s what we both try to do because our love for each other is not based on how we play. No matter what, I’m proud of him and I’m proud to be his wife.”
The couple will be parents very soon, too. Their son, who is due May 3, will be named Ajeo James, or AJ for short, after her grandfather and the man who baptized Gerina, respectively.
“My mom comes from a really big family and my grandfather passed away when I was a teenager,” she says. “No one’s carried on his name so I thought that would be a neat way of honoring him.”
Gerina hasn’t played competitively since January, although she did manage to get nine holes in a couple of times when the TOUR was on the West Coast. For now, she’s just been enjoying watching Martin play, and he’s responded with a pair of top-five finishes.
“I always thought when I was pregnant, oh, I’ll be able to play but you don’t have quite the flexibility or the muscle strength in your core,” she says. “So rather than start bad habits I’m just going to stay away. I’ll just watch these guys and get good mental pictures.”
Gerina plans to return to the LPGA Tour sometime in 2019 but otherwise her timetable is up in the air. Her 21-year-old sister has signed on as her nanny and both the LPGA and PGA TOUR have child care available at each event. Synching their schedules will be a challenge but not something Gerina and Martin haven’t faced before.
“I think the hard part is if I decide to travel, the baby obviously can come with me, but now Martin can’t see the baby,” Gerina says. “… I want Martin to be as involved as much as possible and I know he wants to be involved, as well. So I think it will be a fine line and very carefully balanced as to what we decide.”
Of course, no one knows a TOUR player better than his wife. Now that you know more about the couple, Gerina took time to give us the following 18 things about her husband that you might not know.
1. Martin got into golf because his dad and older brother played.
2. He does not like macaroni and cheese.
3. Martin loves to dance and he accidentally gave me a bloody nose while showing me some dance moves while we were dating.
4. His college coach at Texas A&M gave him the nickname "Thriller" because he is a huge Michael Jackson fan.
5. He actually performed a garter dance at our wedding to Michael Jackson's "You Rock My World" which is on YouTube.
6. His favorite golfers growing up were Tiger Woods and David Duval.
7. Martin's ideal dinner would be New Mexican style Green Chile enchiladas, with a tres leches cake.
8. He became a Christian his sophomore year of college.
9. His senior year of college, Martin could not make the top 5 on his golf team at A&M.
10. He did however win the first pro tournament he played in -- the 2008 Texas State Open.
11. Martin's favorite artists at this time include George Strait, the Weekend and Bruno Mars.
12. When at home, he enjoys woodworking and doing handywork around the house.
13. Martin has a fear of kangaroos. He doesn't trust them.
14. He can't leave the house without chapstick.
15. His favorite TV shows of all time include The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Office and Family Feud.
16. He literally cannot go one day without quoting a movie or TV show. He's tried not to and failed.
17. Martin grew up playing ice hockey and says if he weren't a golfer, he'd like to be a hockey player.
18. When we are at home, he makes breakfast for me every day. It includes includes bacon, eggs, toast and coffee.