Robins golfer aspires to take game to higher level

  • Published
  • By Kendahl Johnson
  • 78th ABW/PA
By consistently hitting 300-plus yard drives, followed by chipping onto the green just feet from the hole, Staff Sergeant Mike Membrila makes the game of golf look easy. Although most amateurs wish it was that easy, it's the natural talent and hard work that have propelled the sergeant to the status as one of the best golfers at Robins.

Sergeant Membrila, an aircraft battle damage repair craftsmen for the 653rd Combat Logistics Support Squadron, has been tearing up the Pine Oaks Golf Course for the three years he's been assigned to Robins. And with his game steadily improving, he has started to see a potential for golf as more than a hobby.

"Ultimately, I'd love to be playing golf professionally on some tour. It might not be the big stage but there are plenty of other platforms between here and there," he said.

Sergeant Membrila started playing golf at a very early age. His father, then a golf pro at Fort Gordon, Ga., put some cut down clubs in his hands when he was three years old. But golf didn't stick, and the sergeant, who wanted to play something "a little more manly" than golf, turned to baseball and later football as his sport of choice. His senior year in high school some friends convinced him to play for the school's golf team.

"I played well and thought 'wow, this is a lot easier than getting hit.' So I started really playing when I was 17, taking it a little more serious and realizing there might be some potential there," he said.

He thought hard about playing college golf, but instead joined the military, following in the footsteps of several relatives from both sides of the family, including his father. For the past two years he has made the Air Force golf team, helping lead the Air Force to win consecutive championships at the Armed Forces tournament. The experience has been a big boost of confidence.

"I've played with three guys who were on the Air Force Academy team and I play equally with them, so it gives me the idea that I do have the potential to play well at that level and compete," Sergeant Membrila said. "The key thing is not just playing the game but competing against people who might be better than you. And I really appreciate where I am at right now. I feel I have the potential to take it to the next step or two in the ladder of golf."

As a golfer with a plus handicap, the sergeant averages below par for a round of golf. He holds the course record at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D. with a 65, but his best 18-hole score was the 63 he shot at Langley AFB, Va. More recently, in a weekend dogfight at Pine Oaks, he shot 65-66.

"It was just one of those weekends where everything was going right for me," he said. "I went out there and everything was working for me. You don't really see those things coming but it's a good feeling when they happen."

What is perhaps most remarkable about his golf game is the fact that he is mostly self taught. He learned from watching his father play and then practicing the things he saw. The times he sought formal instruction didn't work out too well.

"There were a couple times when I really wanted to get better and went and got some instruction but it seemed to regress me more than anything," he said. "It took me about a month to forget what they taught me."

Instead of formal instruction, Sergeant Membrila relies on his natural skill and practice to improve his game. He gets a lot of support from home. Thanks to an understanding wife, he still manages to get to the course three or four times a week to hit balls or play a round or two on the course despite a recent wedding. He is married to Staff Sgt. Genis Membrila, an instructor with the 78th Security Forces Squadron. With both of them going to school while working full time, in addition to the demands of the blended family of her 3-year old daughter and his 6-year-old son, Sergeant Membrila is making an effort to balance golf with other responsibilities.

"Fortunately, I have a very understanding wife. My plate is definitely full right now so having her there as the stable rock is the key," he said. "She understands that golf isn't just a recreational sport for me. There are a lot of golfers who are content to just go beat the ball around the course on occasion, but that's not me. She understands that my aspirations are a little higher."

"I definitely don't restrict him," his wife Genis said. "It's his passion and I love that he has an escape and it's something that he's proud of and something that he's really good at. He really has a talent for golf which makes it special. Plus, he doesn't have an arrogant attitude that you sometimes find among really good golfers. He's a humble golfer and is always willing to help people improve their game."

In addition to family support, Sergeant Membrila also finds support from those within his squadron.

"My section has helped me out a lot with permissive TDYs for Air Force sponsored golf events and other Air Force tournaments," he said. "It's nice to have a squadron that will support you if you have the ability and drive to do something with your talents outside the military."

Sergeant Membrila often tries to include his family in his passion and is now teaching golf to his son, hoping his son will catch the golf bug and gain an appreciation for a game that teaches much more than just how to swing a club.

"Golf is a personality and character builder. You learn patience, you learn to keep your temper in check. And you learn integrity and honesty," he said. "You are going to have times where you have to call penalty on yourself and admit fault. It takes character to do that rather than lie or cheat. So golf builds strong character and that's why more and more kids are being pushed towards golf by their parents."

He added golfers, in a single round of golf, might experience just about every single emotion possible, and one shot might put you on top of the world while the very next shot might make you feel like taking your clubs and throwing them in the lake. But that's the best part about the sport.

"You can't master the game. You just play it and with hard work and perseverance, you can get better. And there is a balance and a fine line to walk. You do have to take it seriously but have fun at the same time. Fortun-ately right now, I don't have to take it too seriously," the sergeant said.