Born and raised in Naples, Florida, Brendon Long’s father’s profession as a poker player led to Brendon taking up the game, too. Following his father’s schooling, Brendon became an excellent player, and poker became his livelihood, taking him across the country for various competitions, including the Grand World Series of Poker.
“It was just really fun,” reflected Long. “It was exciting, and it was good to learn and get better at things.”
However, after five years in professional poker, Brendon felt worn out. He needed to leave poker behind and move in a new direction. Having played pickleball at high school, he decided he would give it another go and try and make it as a pro.
“My uncle had a connection to the sport’s creator,” Long told Jaron May at abc-7.com. “He tried introducing it to my mom three decades ago.”
Back then, pickleball wasn’t as popular. Nevertheless, Brendon set up impromptu courts in his driveway with a makeshift net and court. He and his high school friends played there for hours, unwittingly laying the groundwork for his professional journey.
Fast forward a few years, and Long is currently in his second Major League Pickleball season. He initially played for the Miami Pickleball Club before being drafted 10th overall by the Florida Smash this season.
His schedule involves extensive and frequent travel to take part in tournaments and training twice daily.
“It’s fun,” said Long. “I like that I get to go to other places.”
Demanding Travel Schedule
Brendon attributes the experience he gained playing poker when it comes to adapting to the demanding travel schedule in professional pickleball. He notes that several former poker players have transitioned to pickleball due to shared skills.
“You’re not going to win every single point [in pickleball],” said Long. “But as long as you’re making the right decisions, you’re going to win in the long run. If you can’t do that in poker, you’re going to lose even more.”
Fortunately, Brendon’s poker track record was a strong one, and he aims to replicate this success on the pickleball court.
“I really like winning, and I really hate losing,” said Long. “So I want to get out there, and I want to win every single tournament that I play. That’s my goal.”
Kyle McKenzie is another ex-poker player who is making his mark in pickleball. McKenzie, residing primarily in Sequim, Washington state, but spending roughly half the year traveling, earns a livelihood by conducting training camps for former top pickleball player Tyson McGuffin and providing commentary for various professional pickleball tour tournaments.
According to his former high school coach, this outcome was entirely foreseeable.
“From the get-go, Kyle had a real good cognitive ability to understand the game [and] make adjustments,” remarks Doug Hastings, McKenzie’s coach during his preparatory years.
Following graduation, McKenzie pursued collegiate tennis at the Division I level and explored a career in professional poker.
Meanwhile, Hastings, having lost some tennis partners, decided to try his hand at pickleball with a local group frequenting the Third Avenue courts adjacent to the now-dismantled Sequim Community School.
Reflecting on his initial hesitation, “I was feeling sorry for myself, but I thought it’s worth a try,” Hastings says. “Someone loaned me a paddle. And one day, I said, ‘Family, we’re going to play pickleball.’ We had a blast.”
Upon McKenzie’s return to the area, he reconnected with Hastings, intending to resume tennis, but instead, he rediscovered a sport that would significantly alter the course of his life.
We also featured Bernard Lee, another ex-poker player, and his triumph in the National Pickleball Championship section of the 2023 National Senior Games showcased his talents in the pickleballing arena.
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