Each one of Mitch Kaleel’s seven holes-in-one are documented and on display at his winter home in Florida. (Photo contributed)
MENDOTA – Legendary golfer Ben Hogan enjoyed a 41-year professional career in which he posted 69 wins. One thing that eluded him during his golfing days was a hole-in-one. Many other professional golfers have never pulled off the feat.
Mendota’s Mitch Kaleel didn’t play golf on the professional tour, but he can say he’s had a hole-in-one before. In fact, he can boast of acing a hole a whopping seven times. Kaleel’s latest accomplishment came this spring at the Santa Lucia River Club in Port St. Lucie, Fla., where Kaleel lives six months out of the year. It is the sixth time he’s had a hole-in-one on the Florida course. The other one came at the Mendota Golf Club.
At his most recent hole-in-one, the 88-year-old Kaleel was playing with three other golfers in their 80s and none of them could see where the ball landed. They all told him it was going straight, but had no idea where it ended up. When they got to the green, there were no balls in sight, so they started looking in front of and behind the green, and also in the traps. No one could find the ball for five minutes until somebody suggested to check the cup. And there it was.
“You can hit a bad shot and get a hole-in-one,” a modest Kaleel said. “It’s just the way the ball bounces. It’s really just a lot of luck.”
Kaleel, who grew up in Earlville, didn’t start golfing until he was 26. Before that he was a catcher on the Paw Paw town baseball team, and after he got married, he needed to find a sport that didn’t involve traveling and taking up as much time as baseball did. So, he decided on golf.
“I worked at the Earlvile golf course when I was about 12 years old, but back then, kids didn’t golf,” Kaleel said. “We played a lot of baseball. After I got married I gave up baseball and started golfing.”
Kaleel was self-taught, and he picked up the game quickly. He golfed in leagues in Mendota, and his golfing buddies often traveled out-of-town to play different courses. In fact, he’s played some well-known courses in the Chicago area and in Wisconsin, including Medinah, Butler National and Rich Harvest Farms in Illinois, and Whistling Straits and Lake Geneva in Wisconsin.
When he’s in Florida during the winter, Kaleel said he plays at least four days a week. He said his Tuesday group only plays 11 holes “because we don’t have enough golf balls to play 18.”
Kaleel also continues to golf when he comes home to Mendota for the summer. “I plan to keep playing for as long as I can.”
And the way he’s going, there may just be another hole-in-one in his future.