For Mark Menendez, it's not about the money. It's about the number.
Currently sitting on $992,701.65, Menendez is guaranteed to become B.A.S.S.'s next millionaire on Sunday, when the payout is made for the 2015 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship. The minimum payout at the event — for the angler who ends up in 50th place in AOY points — is $12,000. That's more than enough to make Menendez the 47th angler in B.A.S.S. history to surpass seven figures in prize money.
"It's been a longstanding goal of mine," he admits. In fact, it's one of the reasons he came back to competition after the death of his wife, Donna, from pancreatic cancer in March of last year.
"Donna and I used to talk about it. We thought it made a statement about perseverance and would be sort of a feather in my cap to accomplish."
Of course, Menendez already has an impressive résumé. He's been to five GEICO Bassmaster Classics, won three B.A.S.S. events (including a 2009 Elite tournament on Lake Dardanelle), and in 1997 he caught a 13 pound, 9 ounce largemouth bass at a Bassmaster MegaBucks tournament that stood as the largest in B.A.S.S. history at the time.
He'd be the first to admit that $1 million in prize money over the course of a career spanning 25 years and more than 200 tournaments is not a lot of money (it calculates to about $40,000 per year before expenses that can easily run double that), but he's also quick to point out that he competed in "both" eras of professional bass fishing — when first-place prize money rarely exceeded $50,000 and when it began to regularly exceed six figures.
"I definitely had a taste of how hard it is to get to a million dollars. To see some of my contemporaries get there has inspired me. I want to get there, too. It means a lot because Donna and I used to talk about it and because it's a landmark and establishes a level of credibility in this industry.
Larry Nixon was the first B.A.S.S. millionaire. He surpassed the figure on Oct. 17, 1992. Since then, 45 others have done it — most recently Casey Ashley, John Crews and Bobby Lane earlier this year. Kevin VanDam leads all money winners with nearly $6 million — more than the next two anglers (Skeet Reese and Denny Brauer) combined.
"When my friend Kenyon Hill got to the $1 million mark in 2011, it became a real goal for me," Menendez said.
Of course, the Kentucky pro would have reached the mark long ago but for time spent away from the tournament trail caring for his wife and young children during her illness. Returning to the Elite Series in 2015 required courage and a desire to get that part of his life back to normal. After all he's been through, finishing in the top 50 in AOY points is a major accomplishment. But his season's not over. There's still a chance that he'll qualify for the 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic on Oklahoma's Grand Lake O' the Cherokees.
To do it, and to get to the sixth world championship of his career, he'll need a very strong performance in the AOY Championship. Nothing less will do.
Beyond the AOY Championship — and potentially a berth in the Classic — Menendez's future as a pro is uncertain. He'll reach the $1 million goal within hours, but tendonitis in both arms makes competition painful and retirement a consideration.
"If I can get my arms healed," he says, "I'm definitely coming back. I'm getting advice from some great doctors and will be checked out again once the season's over. Surgery is a possibility."
He's already shown he can bounce back from much tougher adversaries.