Golf

July 16, 2014

Former Clemson golfer Ben Martin is on the rise

SOMEWHERE ALONG THE way, no matter the endeavor, life knocks even the best for a loop. LeBron misses with the game on the line, Peyton throws an interception at the goal or Mike Trout strikes out with the bases loaded.

SOMEWHERE ALONG THE way, no matter the endeavor, life knocks even the best for a loop. LeBron misses with the game on the line, Peyton throws an interception at the goal or Mike Trout strikes out with the bases loaded.

So, what to do? The response to hard times matters.

Consider what professional golfer Ben Martin, a Greenwood native who lives in Greenville, did. On the verge of no status on the top pro tours late in 2012, he tees off Thursday in the British Open.

Martin, 26, calls 2014 “a big year, both personally and professionally.” He married Kelly Pearce in December and has climbed the ladder on the PGA Tour from anonymity to quality performer.

“The biggest thing about Ben is he’s willing to work hard to be better,” Larry Penley, his golf coach at Clemson, said.

Martin could have believed he had golf figured out this time four or five years ago. He finished second in the 2009 U.S. Amateur, played in the 2010 Masters and U.S Open, placed ninth in the NCAA national tournament, won a mini-tour event after turning pro and roared through qualifying school to secure a place on the 2011 PGA Tour.

But late in the 2012 season found him at the opposite end of the spectrum.

THEN

Like most college golfers, Martin set his sights on the big tour and Penley could see the possibilities during his Clemson career.

“Ben is an outstanding talent, and one great thing is he had Kyle Stanley for a teammate,” the hall of fame coach said. “Kyle had such an agenda, a plan, to make the PGA Tour and I told the guys they ought to look at what Kyle was doing. Ben took it to heart. All of a sudden, he’s in the weight room three or four times a week, and he became bigger and stronger. He followed Kyle’s lead.

“But he will tell you he got out on the big tour too soon. There’s so much to learn, and it’s not the golf. It’s everything else, like travel, playing more than ever, learning the course, learning how to practice. He’s the youngest guy out there, and it can get lonely.”

Martin agreed that he received a wake-up call, noting, “Right out of school and facing the travel and so much golf ... I had never done that before.”

His golf suffered and his confidence did, too. He dropped down to the Web.com Tour in 2012 and spent most of the year searching for answers. When all looked lost, he salvaged his year – and perhaps his career – with a third-place finish that boosted him 34 places in earnings and into the tour’s championship tournament. The result: full Web.com status in 2013 – and he said, “Everything changed.”

He won twice and his confidence soared. He finished in the top five in five statistical categories – including first in all-around performance – and secured 2014 playing privileges in the major leagues.

“I used that (season) to take my game forward,” Martin said.

The trend has not ended.

NOW

The last weekend in June found Martin competing in the Quicken Loans tourney at Congressional outside of Washington, D.C. In addition to the usual lucrative purse, the top four players not otherwise qualified would receive spots in the British Open.

And Sunday, there he was ... in contention.

Starting the final round in fifth place, Martin made double bogey on No. 10 to fall to 19th.

Two birdies got him back in the British picture with two holes to play, and he said, “I didn’t think about the British Open until the final four holes. I only knew what Justin Rose (his playing partner) was doing.”

On the par-4 17th, his second shot landed in a greenside bunker. He had a good lie, but he gets up-and-down from the sand only half the time and ranked 94th in sand saves.

“I told Alex (Boyd, his caddie and former Clemson teammate) that this would be a good time to make one,” Martin said.

He did, getting back to even par for the round and three under for the tournament – in position for the trip to England. Suddenly, he thought more – about winning the tournament.

Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champion who led Martin by two strokes, hooked his second shot on the finishing hole into the water and, Martin said, “I thought I had a chance (to win).” But his birdie putt missed by a couple of inches and Rose salvaged bogey, leaving him one shot out of the playoff that Rose won.

“I have finished third three times this year,” Martin said. “I was four back in Puerto Rico, two back at Hilton Head and I missed the last one by one. I like that progression; I like that progress.”

In his seven tournaments between the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head and the Quicken Loans at Congressional, he made the cut each time and boosted his earnings by more than $1 million. He has secured his playing privileges for 2015, but he’s not ready to rest on his achievements. He wants to win.

“I have made steady progress, and that’s a matter of experience and maturity,” he said. “I’ve continually improved throughout my career – in junior golf, at Clemson and now in the pros. Obviously, the competition is tougher at each level, and your game has to grow.”

His has.

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