Ben Martin Wins Shriners Open Without Looking

Ben Martin won the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas on Sunday. It was his first PGA Tour victory and earned him a two-year exemption on top of this year’s exemption for finishing 76th on last year’s FedExCup points list.

“I guess exempt this season and the next two seasons, I guess I locked up my retirement, five years.  But obviously I’ve never been in that position, but it takes a little bit of the stress off, all right, ‘I’ve got to perform this year and finish Top 125 or I’m losing my job.’ So I think any time certainly for me that I can be more relaxed going into the tournament, the better I’m going to play.”

“And hopefully it doesn’t work the opposite way where you get too comfortable, but I’m going to try to keep moving forward, keep getting better, but having my card locked up for the next three seasons, it takes a load off.”

And make no mistake trying to play professional golf at its highest lever is a load all by itself. Martin was pretty nervous all day long even though he appeared to be calm. It took a lot of the nerves out of the equation because he decided not to look at the leaderboard: 

“I just looked on No.8.  Yeah, I was nervous enough as it was, so I figured looking at the scoreboard would just have added to that, so I tried to keep my head down and hit the best shots that I could hit.”

One of the reasons that he was nervous was that he wasn’t sure where his ball was going. Can you imagine standing over a shot with all that’s riding on each shot and you’re not sure whether you’re going to get your preferred fade or a surprise hook?

“I didn’t feel like I was 100 percent in command of where the ball was going, but I just said, hey, let’s play what I’ve got today.  I was actually scared because I hooked my last two drives coming into 15 [a drivable par-4], so I was scared of hooking it over there on the rocks, but it was nice to see that end up on the green.”

That 15th hole was the beginning of his awakening; he started well with a birdie on 3, but then he bogeyed 8 and 11 to get to 1-over on the day where he sat through 14 on certain powder-keg scoring ahead of him. But the breakthrough came on the par-5 16th where he was so amped up, he had 197 yards to the hole over a fronting pond, hit 6-iron and it flew 212.

But his playing companion, Russell Knox who finished 3rd, was a little long on his 2nd shot too, fortunately outside of Martin and on the same general line.

“Russell’s putt was on the same line as mine, and I got a good read off his putt and rolled in the eagle putt.”

And that putt was the difference. After another birdie on 18, he won by two strokes over an irrepressible Kevin Streelman who had bunches of birdies on the weekend (63, 65).

Aside from a furtive glance at the leaderboard on the 8th — he said he wasn’t going to look — he just kept his head down and played:

“I just kept my head down, kept plugging along.  Obviously the putt on 16 was huge, and I didn’t know where I stood after that, but when I hit my approach into 18, I asked Alex, my caddie, I said, do I need to do anything special with this putt, and he said, just do what you do and two‑putt it up there and you’re good.  I said, all right, we’ll see, one or two.”

“But it was a nice way to end making a 20‑footer on the last hole for birdie and just move right up the FedExCup rankings early in the year.  You look at what Jimmy Walker did last year winning early, and it just makes it easier the rest of the season.”

Easy is a good thing in professional golf. It is the thing that all the players are looking for in all areas of the game. Sometimes they use the word, “simplify” in the same context. And what “easy” and “simplify” engender is freedom, the lubrication of great golf.

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