By Sara Wright, PGA TOUR
Henry Mentzel was just seven years old when he was first introduced to First Tee. His parents had been searching for some basic golf lessons for their son and stumbled across First Tee — Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Little did they know, this program would end up providing so much more. First Tee would be one of the most influential programs in young Henry’s life and would prove a catalyst for his personal growth throughout the years.
“I have been active in multiple sports throughout my childhood,” Henry explained. “I played soccer, basketball, baseball, just trying to figure out which I enjoyed the most. First Tee introduced golf in a way that allowed me to learn how to play the game, but also taught me life skills that I was able to apply across many areas of my young life. In the end, golf is the sport I enjoy the most.”
Henry is currently at the Eagle level, but it was during his time in the PAR level that he learned a valuable lesson on perseverance and how to succeed in golf by continuing through bad breaks and his own mistakes. This lesson also helped him in other aspects of his life.
“I applied the perseverance lesson in school, specifically, in Latin,” he said. “I struggled to understand the different parts of Latin grammar and the new vocabulary. My school required Latin, so I had to figure out how to persevere through three years of an unspoken language that did not make sense to me. I made a lot of vocabulary lists, agreed to get a tutor, and started staying after school for help nights. After applying myself, despite some not so great grades on assignments, I started making progress and now, in my third year, I have an A in the class.”
Not only do these lessons shape Henry’s life, but they have had a big part in shaping others’ lives, as well. Coached from early on by Tom and Melissa Briner, they not only helped him discover his love for the game of golf, but also gave Henry the opportunity to coach other young golfers at First Tee.
“Being able to introduce my friend Will Abel to the game of golf was very meaningful to me,” Henry reflected. “First Tee has given Will the opportunity to begin to learn the game of golf and me the opportunity to teach and play with him. I enjoy that we now both have another common interest that we enjoy doing together.”
This friendship between Will and Henry was one of the reasons he was recently awarded with the 2020 Heart of First Tee Award. This award given by First Tee — Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky recognizes individuals who embody the “Heart” of the First Tee through giving of time, talent or treasure; by demonstrating and living one of First Tee values; or by going above and beyond to promote or further their missions.
“We are all living in extraordinary and trying times that have tested all of us in ways we couldn’t even imagine nine months ago,” Rosie Abel wrote in her nomination of Henry. “Despite these challenges, Henry – acting upon the values of the First Tee – found a way to make a difference in our son’s life. My son, Will, who has Down Syndrome, is not unlike most sixteen-year-olds — very outgoing, social, and full of energy. But the pandemic has proven to be particularly frustrating for him especially when Ohio shut down in March. His sense of isolation grew as the effects of the pandemic spread.”
“When First Tee classes resumed in the summer, Henry continued to be that go-to person for Will,” Rosie continued. “He supports Will at the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati’s Buddy Walk and even invited Will to play a round of golf with him, knowing that Will was not as experienced as himself. Will is not the only recipient of Henry’s friendship. Many coaches and staff have witnessed his kindness and refreshing take on life, feeling joy in other’s successes. We suspect there are many other people who have been touched by Henry and consider him to be on their “go-to team.”
Henry currently caddies, is a member of HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America) and Books For Kids (a club where students write and illustrate a book imagined patients at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital) he also regularly volunteers with his family at a soup kitchen. During the summer, Henry volunteers in First Tee classes where he is a positive role model for the younger kids in the program.
“The core values the First Tee teaches are very important for kids and teens today,” Henry continued. “I really believe these core values build kids to be better, stronger, and smarter on and off the golf course each day. First Tee also teaches kids social and mental skills on how to interact and bring out the best in themselves and their teammates. First Tee teaches how to set specific goals and, more importantly, what it takes to achieve them. These essential skills help prepare kids for their future and provide tools for success.”
As Henry prepares for his future, one of his immediate goals is to place in the top 10 in one of the golf tournaments he plans to compete in this summer. He is also striving to achieve the A honor role during his freshman year at Walnut Hills High School. His long terms goals are to play college golf and get into medical school.
“First Tee has taught me that to achieve these goals I will need to be confident, honest, and persevere through challenges,” Henry added. “Through this program and the coaches who mentor me, I always feel that I can do whatever I set my mind to do. It has helped me understand that a bad day on the course (or in school or in life, in general) is just that – one bad day. Tomorrow is a fresh start.”