Martin Flores: On the Way to Becoming a Complete Player

Angel Cabrera and Martin Flores are the 36-hole leaders of the 2014 Wells Fargo Championship at the revamped Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina. They both managed to get to 9-under par and have a one-shot lead over Justin Rose, two over Shawn Stefani and J.B. Holmes and three over Martin Kaymer, Stewart Cink and Kevin Kisner.

Cabrera is famous for having won only two PGA Tour tournaments…but they were both majors: the 2007 U.S. Open and the 2009 Masters. Quite an accomplishment; maybe one major as your only victory, but two?

Flores, on the other hand, has spent years investing in himself; learning how to make the big leap from being an Academic All-American and All-Big 12 selection at Oklahoma to the highest levels of the game. Beginning in 2009, he began banging back and forth between the Tour and the PGA Tour. Each time that he got to the PGA Tour, he found that he wasn’t ready yet…until he won his Tour card a second time, finishing 24th on the Tour in 2011. 

He made $1.0 million in 2012. And $.805 million in the season-shortened 2013 and $423 million so far in season-expanded 2014. The point is that he can play, even though most casual followers of the Tour have never heard of him. And now, here he is with his first 36-hole lead in a PGA Tour event. And he knows exactly how he did it:

First of all, mentally I’ve been patient and comfortable on this golf course.  It just seems to fit my eye.  I don’t know what it is but consequently, I’ve driven the ball pretty well and it’s given me a lot of short irons on the greens that have been firm in some areas — also holed some putts — so it’s been pretty good.

But it wasn’t any one thing that suddenly thrust him into this position other than the hard work all apprentices put in:

“I don’t think so.  I’ve been practicing really hard for quite some time, and I have shown a lot of progress at practice. And I would say over the last 7 or 8 events, I have four top‑20s, out of last six events, but I haven’t “kicked it over.”

“I’ve had spurts where the rounds are pretty good and I’ve messed it up a little bit but I just haven’t produced what I’ve been doing in practice in the tournaments and now it’s starting to show.”

“I need to continue to be patient and let things unfold.”

Take heart golfers everywhere! Even an accomplished Tour player can’t always take it from the range and practice rounds into a tournament! It’s not just us! And his intentions in the matter are the best advice for all of us: “continue to be patient and let things unfold.”

That state of mind eventually allows all of the work to “kick over:”

“Putting four solid days together.  It’s not easy to do but when you’re playing against the best in the world, you need to be sharp for the majority of that time.”

As good as this little run this week has been, he isn’t about to let his mind start wandering by thinking about winning it on Sunday:

“Through 36 I’m in great position.  You know, I’ve tried to refuse to think about winning because it’s a product of, as they always say, (Away from mic) [fear, distraction, nervousness, emotions, lack of focus…among other things].”

“I just try to go out there each day and play my best.  And be very, very patient. Like I said before, because a lot of times in the past, I’ve tried to be too perfect, and for some reason this sport doesn’t really work out that way.  I just want to keep doing what I’m doing and focus on tomorrow and go out there and play really well tomorrow.”

And because he’s so even-tempered, he just might have a chance. He holed a 105-yard sand wedge for an eagle-2 on the 11th, his second hole of the day. It was as if he didn’t even have a pulse, the mark of a player completely engrossed in his round:

“I’m pretty level, so I actually got made fun of because I didn’t give any reaction.  Brian Harmon, his caddy, said, “Well, I guess I’ll go pick it up out of the hole,” because I didn’t do anything.”

“I actually thought the ball stopped [on the slope behind the pin].  I thought it was long, because it was behind the pin, and I couldn’t see it roll so I just started walking, I had my head down and I was thinking, that’s a nice shot, let’s go make it, and then all of the sudden I heard the cheers so kinda did one of those!  It was a great start to the day.”

This metered approach to the game doesn’t come naturally to most people. You have to learn how to rein yourself in and Flores has a constructive way to think about it.

“Yeah, I’m pretty “chill” you know.  I may not be that on the inside, but outwardly it looks like that a lot of the time.  Overall, I don’t get too up or too down.  It’s a tough, tough game and you get beat up a lot.  I try to enjoy the good things that happen and just keep battling the things that I struggle with sometimes.”

And he has a comprehensive idea of exactly what he’s trying to do. He’s been out there among the best players in the world, and as the beloved Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot just by watching:”

“I’m just trying to become a complete player.  I’ve worked really hard on my wedges and my short game and putting, and to become a more consistent driver of the golf ball.  The best players in the world are complete players, so I’ve been working on — I’ve been really trying to balance my practice.  Not really focusing so hard in one area, and that’s really helped me.”

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, it takes all of you to play this great game. And it takes more than just a passing familiarity with the major aspects of the game: the driver, the woods, the irons, wedges inside 100 yards, chip shots, pitch shots, lob shots, sand shots and putting. That’s more than just a bucket of balls once or twice a week and a round on Saturday, of course.

But if you can find the time, invest the effort and practice with curiosity, you are on your way, in relative terms, to becoming a complete player too. With golf’s handicap system for amateurs and varying levels of tournaments for professionals, it truly is relative. The challenge, only if you want to, is to keep finding your way to the next level.

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