Mardy Fish gave his life in tennis, but he looks like a retired golfer with a smooth, powerful swing that prompted Jack Nicklaus to declare him “the best non-professional golfer I’ve ever seen play”. Nicklaus would no doubt have been even more impressed had he known that Fish had never taken golf lessons.
Fish recalls a less structured setting he developed his left-handed golf swing in as a toddler in Edina, Minnesota, as it’s the same place the right-handed tennis player grooved his backhand who “paid the bills”.
“My mom tied a string with a tennis ball to the basement ceiling,” says Fish, who has a handicap rating of over 2.8 at the Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles. “I would pick up a baseball bat, tennis racket or whatever and hit it with both hands on this side.”
Fish played junior golf before focusing on tennis, and he’s pretty sure he made the right decision. What is certain is that he ended up having one of the most interesting career arcs of any athlete, a story that was chronicled in Netflix’s gripping 2021 documentary “Untold: Breaking Point.” The film focuses on Fish’s late-career revival when he turned to a strict diet and training regimen that took 30 pounds off his 6-foot-2 frame. At 29, Fish peaked reaching world No. 7.
Fish’s push was cut short by cardiac arrhythmia and a severe anxiety disorder. The panic attacks became so debilitating that they kept him out of court in potentially the most important match of his career, a fourth-round encounter with Roger Federer at the 2012 US Open. played for the next three years, retiring after the 2015 US Open, but not before deciding to come forward about his mental health issues in hopes of helping others.
“I was in bad shape, got out of it and thrived,” says Fish. “It’s not something that’s going away for good, but I have really good days almost every day. The pandemic has added to the mental health discourse, so now is a good time to share a success story for people who are locked in their homes or scared of anything.
Fish says that during his tennis career, he used golf to escape competition in tournaments. In retirement, it’s the opposite. He loves to perform at celebrity events, and about once a month for recreational purposes when he’s at his home in Los Angeles with his wife, Stacey, and their two kids. Fish considers golf a “positive stress” in his life, and after decades of pushing his body to its limits to play tennis, you won’t find him beating shot balls.
“Honestly, the less I play, the less it’s on my mind,” says Fish, who is captain of the USA Davis Cup team. “I think it helps that I play a minimum.”
Lack of play hasn’t stopped Fish from being a force on the celebrity golf scene. He’s won the LPGA’s Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions Celebrity Division three times and the American Century Championship – the Super Bowl of celebrity golf – in 2020, breaking Lee Trevino’s Edgewood Tahoe course record with a 63 .
“I like the feeling of leaving a city without losing. I had that in tennis a few times,” says Fish, a six-time ATP Tour winner. “You chase that feeling. In tennis, we call it Title Town.
Fish, 40, is content to chase that sentiment on the celebrity tour, but he shares a dream that many other golfers have: to play on the senior tour. “It would take me years to train, but I know what it takes.”
It’s a lofty goal, but one that seems achievable for this gifted athlete. Ask Jack Nicklaus.