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Paying it forward: How one player’s generosity turned into a career-changing win

February 26, 2019

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — When Martin Trainer’s regular caddie, Matt Garcia, called in sick before last week’s Puerto Rico Open, Trainer knew just who to call. Someone owed him a favor.

Ryan Ellerbrock, who had played with Trainer on PGA Tour Latinoamerica, was short on money over the winter but had dreams of playing PGA Tour Canada Q School. They cut a deal: Trainer would spot Ellerbrock the entry fee. In exchange, Ellerbrock would caddie for him at a date to be named later.

At the time, it seemed like a pretty sweet deal for Ellerbrock. It turned out to be a sweet deal for both of them.

“When I knew Matt couldn’t make it, I let Ryan know that hey, if you can get down there, get down there,” Trainer said Tuesday. Ellerbrock’s parents work for American Airlines, which gives him some flexibility when it comes to last-minute travel. So, Ellerbrock hopped on a flight to Puerto Rico in time for the event. Seventy-two holes later, he was at Trainer’s side as he hoisted the trophy and collected a check for $540,000 — more than double his career earnings.

Martin Trainer caddie
Ryan Ellerbrock and Martin Trainer embraced at the close of the 2019 Puerto Rico Open.

Trainer’s ascent to PGA Tour winner is fast becoming the stuff of legend. Less than a year ago, the 27-year-old Bay Area native was hanging on the edge of the Web.com Tour when he turned a Monday qualification at the El Bosque Mexico Championship into a shocking win. The win only looked more improbable after his next 13 starts on the Web, in which Trainer missed nine cuts and notched just a single top-50. But then he won again out of nowhere, this time at the Price Cutter Charity Championship. By the end of the year, he’d posted just three top-25 finishes in 21 starts on the Web, but two of those three were victories. That meant a ticket to the big Tour.

Eight starts into his PGA Tour career, Trainer had mustered just a single top-50, which was a T-28 at Pebble Beach. That was just the sort of momentum he needed to go to Puerto Rico, where he won again. “That was my first top-25 on Tour,” he mused. But he still can’t explain why. “Dude, I have no idea what it means. You’d think I’d have, like, a ninth, or a 15th, or anything else.”

He was quick to credit Ellerbrock’s steadying influence down the stretch on Sunday, when Trainer started the day two shots back and went on to win by three. But he was keen to credit his week-in, week-out caddie too. “I’m sure Matt was bummed, but I give him a lot of the credit; he’s helped me so much,” Trainer said Tuesday at the Honda Classic. “I wouldn’t have made the Tour without him, and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to win without him.”

Martin Trainer Matt Garcia caddie
Martin Trainer’s regular caddie, Matt Garcia, played a crucial role during a wet, wild week at Pebble Beach.

Everything has suddenly changed now for Trainer. He now has Tour status for two years, berths into some of the game’s best events, and had clearly attained new status at the Honda. He gamely posed for photos with a series of young fans, one after the other, before heading to the range.

Garcia is back on the bag this week. Ellerbrock is back to prepping for Q School. As for his share of the winnings?

Trainer laughed. “He’s no longer struggling for money, I’ll put it that way,” he said.