Ben Martin Leads Zurich Classic After a 62

Ben Martin shot a course-record 62 in the first round of the Zurich Classic. That put him two shots in front of the rest of the field at the TPC Louisiana in Avendale, Louisiana. Andrew Svoboda is the first player in reach of him and Peter Hanson and Seung-Yul Noh were a stroke back in T3.

With all the cuts Martin has missed this year, 9 of 14, you could have said that this was some sort of surprise. But last week at the Heritage in Hilton Head, he suddenly finished T3 and pretty much saved his year. The other side of that coin is that he’s also pretty much disqualified himself from joining the ranks of EyeOnTheTour.Com’s “Popup Players.”

It was one of those rounds where everything just went his way, spurred by an early affirmation:

“Really, everything was working well.  I got off, I think, I birdied 1, 2, 4, 5.  So I was 4‑under through 5.  Got off to a good start and just kept it rolling.  Got a little nervous on the putt for 29 on No. 9 at four or five feet, but it was one of those days that it’s just like you draw it up.”

He didn’t make that putt on 9, but he ran into yet another affirmation that it was going to be a good day with a make-up birdie on 10:

“I think it was good because I’d never shot 29 before, so that’s why I was a little nervous.  I got that out of the way. Then went to No. 10 and made a 12‑ or 14‑footer for birdie, and I think that kind of kept me rolling.”

In the face all of those missed cuts, how did he manage to get it together so impressively last week and now this? He was able to see that he had chosen goals that put too much pressure on him and, with the help of his sports psychologist, to scale them back to ones that would be less daunting and more affirming:

“I met with my sports psychologist at home the week of The Masters. Last year on the Tour my goal was to win two tournaments [which he did], and I knew that would get me into the PGA Tour.  So starting the year again this year, I had the same goal to win two tournaments.”

“[But] that got me really kind of results focused.  It’s even more frustrating if your goal is to win tournaments and you’re not even making cuts, then you don’t even feel like you’re close.  I had to kind of reassess and kind of put that on the side and come up with a new goal to play in the Tour Championship and finish top 30 in the FedExCup, so that is kind of my new aim.”

“I think that enables me to take it week by week and not put so much pressure on results, but focusing more on just the process and playing well each week, each day, each shot.  Just breaking it down and not focusing so much on winning.”

And then there are those transformational moments when you realize that you really do belong. He played with Jim Furyk and K.J. Choi in the last group in the third round at Hilton Head:

“Playing with Jim Furyk and K.J. Choi in the last group on Saturday was a spot I had never been in on the PGA Tour.  So I think I shot even par on Saturday, and felt like I played well and held right in there with those guys.”

“So guys that I’ve grown up watching on TV and as a junior golfer, to get out there and be in the last group with them and be happy with the way I played and the way I handled myself.  Then to play really well on Sunday and even have a chance to win the golf tournament on the back nine, it did a lot for me.”

“I’ve been struggling for the most part of the year other than one good event in Puerto Rico.  But playing with Furyk and K.J. and mixing it up with those guys, I think, is going to help me out for the rest of the year.”

You know how when we have those really good rounds, we find ourselves looking back on how it could have been better? Martin certainly had good reason to do that looking back on the putt for 29. But he didn’t do it, and it’s a whole fresh perspective because rather than dwelling in disappointment, he engenders still more affirmations:

“When I play well, I really focus on what I did well and really don’t try to think about what could have been.”

“It’s really just been this week and last week trying to judge my performance in the quality of my process, so that’s how I’m going to be successful.  I don’t think I’m looking as much at the 62 as I’m looking at how well I executed my routine all day, and that’s really what I’m most proud of.  I felt like if I could continue to do that this week and the rest of this year, then I’m going to be successful.”

And finally, he’s arrived at these ideas through his 2-year tutorial on the Tour. When that was first announced as the gateway to the PGA Tour, many were disappointed that the traditional Q-School would be the first victim. But when Martin first got to the Tour through Q-School, he discovered that he was ill prepared. It was the that put the finishing touches on his skill set:

“I think one of the biggest things that I took away from the was learning how to win golf tournaments.  Getting my Tour card in 2011 straight out of college, I didn’t know what to expect.  I don’t know if you could say lost, but I wasn’t ready for it.”

“So having two years on the Tour, winning twice out there last year, playing very consistent and being in the mix multiple times on the weekend against some good players.  You look at the fields out there, a lot of the guys have been out here.  So playing against quality competition and then learning how to win I think is the biggest thing.”

And whad’ya know? He sniffed it last week and now here he is again. It’s a process.

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