Tour vet’s late miss leads to emotion-filled press conference
Almost every time the PGA Tour hosts a World Golf Championship, better know as the WGCs, that same week there is also an opposite field event. You might not know their names by heart. There are a lot of events to remember. But they take place at the same time as those big money, sometimes no-cut events all the top-ranked pros play in.
And you know what? These opposite field events matter just as much. Sometimes even more. Case in point: Ben Martin.
Forgive me for using what is a very emotional clip of Martin to illustrate a point that has been made hundreds of times on the PGA Tour and other various levels of pro golf. But sometimes — maybe all the time? — it’s a point that needs reminding.
Martin tied for second in this week’s opposite field event, the Corales Puntacana Championship. He led after 36 holes, after 54 holes, and for much of Sunday afternoon, too. But when he finished with three straight pars — on a stretch of holes so wicked it’s been nicknamed The Devil’s Elbow — he found himself one shot short of leading after 72 holes.
Sudden clarity arrives on many a 72nd hole, and on this week’s 72nd Martin needed to make a 5-footer for birdie to enter a playoff. His attempt cruised by the left lip of the hole and he recoiled at the sight.
It’s a scene that plays out on the PGA Tour a lot — the runner-up’s late failure — but in our haste to congratulate the champion we sometimes blow right past the person in second place. Many times a champion for 71 holes, but not 72.
Martin, was the 565th-ranked player in the world when he woke up Sunday and became the 336th-ranked as he woke up Monday. But in the win column, there’s been nothing since his triumph in the fall of 2014. At some level, that’s all anyone at opposite field events might be chasing. The ‘W’. The victory that assures them 2.5 more years of their Tour card. The win that allows them to take a break next week, or the week after that, or the week after the Masters because, well, we locked up our status.
You don’t have to be a seasoned Tour vet to understand how that can weigh on someone’s psyche week-in and week-out. And in particular, on a past-champion who’s been there before, tasted the good juice from that Tour-winner life. That’s Ben Martin.
It’s pretty customary for the main characters in every Tour event to speak with reporters after, or at the very least with a tournament official in some formal capacity. That’s how we put a bow on these weeks, 40 to 50 times a year. Some pros in his position would pass on the opportunity, but Martin hung around for a simple question: “What are your initial thoughts coming off this one?”
Before she could even finish the question, you could hear the quiver in Martin’s voice. The 55 speechless seconds that followed say way more than any eloquent answer ever could.
As the audio from tournament officials crowning a champion played out in the background, Martin hugged his caddie and struggled to come up with and answer.
“Give me a minute,” he said, stepping away from the mic.
“That was obviously difficult,” Martin said once he returned. “You know, I’ve won out here before. I’ve won on the Korn Ferry. Runner-up in the U.S. Am. But I guess maybe I wanted this one a lot more. I don’t think I’ve ever been emotional about golf, so this is a first. But to me, that’s a good thing. It means I competed hard.
“It obviously stung. I hit such two good shots into 18. To have such a good opportunity and to not capitalize, I guess, is the most difficult part.”
There’s a saying in pro golf that goes: You make 90% of your income in 10% of your weeks. In other words, these opportunities don’t come around often, and when they do must recognize them and capitalize on them to make the most of the few times good fortune and good play combine to go your way.
“I got right out of college, got on the PGA Tour, was down like two years, but then I pretty much always played out here,” Martin continued. “So I think that just the fight to get back, I guess, is what makes it sting a little bit.”
Looking back through Martin’s results, you’ll see he plays in a lot of opposite field events. The Puerto Rico Open, opposite last year’s WGC-Workday Championship in February. The Barbasol Championship, opposite the British Open in July. The Barracuda Championship, in August, opposite the WGC-St. Jude Invitational. He’s played them all, knowing that any single wee, opposite event or otherwise, could be that special week. That’s the game hundreds of pros are playing while we all hem and haw about if Bryson DeChambeau got a fair ruling at Austin Country Club, or if Kevin Kisner’s match play success means he should be a shoe-in for the Ryder Cup. Such tricky problems those guys have!
Martin wants a piece of those problems, too. Of course he does! He’s 34 and a father and can beat Kevin Kisner tomorrow if a couple things go his way. But he’s grasping for full status on the Tour right now. He admitted he was nervous, something most pros won’t confess to. But he knew today was one of those 10-percent moments where you get 90% of what’s coming your way. After playing pretty damn well, it still wasn’t quite enough. The emotions? “I guess I care a lot,” he said.
Since it was still pretty damn good, though, he’s headed to San Antonio on a top 10 exemption. The chase continues.