Ben Martin: Last week’s winner talks about the heat

Ben Martin won last week’s Shriners Open in Las Vegas and he took a little time in the Media Center at this week’s McGladrey Open at Sea Island, Georgia to decompress.

“Yeah, obviously last week was a big step in the right direction for my professional career, starting my fifth full season as a pro, third on the PGA Tour, had three third‑place finishes last year, so I feel like I put myself in the mix on Sunday, and the second event of the year, put myself there again and was — didn’t have a whole lot going on Sunday but proud of the way I finished, 4‑under in the last four to win by two.  It was a big confidence boost and a big — it’s nice to have a PGA Tour card for the next three seasons really, so early in this one.”

One of the interesting things he talked about was the principle of goal setting. It has been quite fashionable to set goals of late, but Martin found that that didn’t work well for him once he got to the Tour: 

“Yeah, last year, I’ll go back to my season on the Web.com, I had a goal to win twice and get my PGA Tour card, and I won twice and did that.  So I thought, hey, that was a good goal.  I’ll do that on the PGA Tour”

But don’t you just know, as soon as you figure out the formula, you don’t notice that something has changed and the chemistry doesn’t work anymore:

“Well, I wasn’t playing well and I was putting a lot of pressure on myself week to week and I was missing a lot of cuts, so I kind of refocused and I said instead of trying to win let’s focus on trying to move up the FedExCup each week, and my goal was to be in the Tour Championship, which obviously I didn’t.  I made it through two of the four events, so I didn’t do what I wanted to.

Even though I had a good season, I still came up short of what I wanted to do, so I was kind of having a bad taste in my mouth at the end of last year and certainly motivation going into this year.”

The problem with that bad taste in his mouth is that rather than seeing his long-term goal as inevitable and giving himself credit for what he did accomplish, his disposition soured and made it more difficult to get there.

But he did adjust the way he sets goals to something with a lot less emotional pressure and a more constructive mindset:

“But yeah, I think wins just — at least for me, if I press a little bit too hard to win, it’s probably not going to happen, so it’s just a matter of getting in the mix and being consistent and giving myself those opportunities and eventually it’s going to happen.”

So while you’re waiting for that to happen, it seems like it takes forever (I waited ten years to finally get my book deal; that was forever.) And after the the first tournament of the year, the Frys.com Open, it seemed like it would be a whole lot longer; not only did he miss the cut, he finished dead last except for one other poor soul.

But you have to keep believing that your moment is just around the corner. And he did. While he was home practicing when he failed to make the Top 70 and the BMW Championship, he decided that he was going to go all light and airy and play for fun with his friends. He saw that as a good way to get the freedom in his game that he knew was required. But he was jolted a little when things went south at Frys.com.

It wasn’t until after that loss that he knew he needed to make an adjustment, not to his swing, but to his whole approach. How could he finish last?

“I don’t exactly know the answer.  I guess it’s just golf.  I think to a certain extent, I was playing at home and I had five weeks off, and I felt like, all right, I want to be relaxed.  I want to be free, and that’s kind of the mindset.”

“I was playing at home with my buddies, and I think I took that same kind of energy level to the PGA Tour, and it didn’t really translate well for me.  I was just kind of rehashing the week, like all right, I’m going to turn up the energy level and really focus on this week, focus on each round, focus on each shot, and that was the biggest difference.  There wasn’t anything in my swing or anything like that.”

And that mindset was the difference on Sunday when his game went flat of the front nine and most of the back nine…and then he turned into a finisher, the hallmark of a professional golfer:

“But I like to — I tell myself, I’m a finisher.  You’ve got to be a finisher if you want to win golf tournaments, and that’s what happened.  I didn’t really have a whole lot going on Sunday, but making an easy birdie, two‑putt birdie on 15, was big, and then got a little momentum going, and playing the last four holes 4‑under to win by two is — I finished the way that I always think that I can.”

The week has been pretty hectic what with losing all of Monday to commuting from Vegas back to the East Coast. He left at 7am and didn’t get to Sea Island until 7:30pm after the time change and connections.

He did, however, arrive in a new echelon: he now plays with other winners, this week with the tournament host, Davis Love, and last year’s winner and hot commodity in The Playoffs, Chris Kirk.

“I feel like a lot going on for me since I won on Sunday.  It seems like a long time ago.  I’m looking forward to trying to put all that behind me and go out to compete this week.  I’m playing with Davis and Chris Kirk, so a little bit of a new pairing for me on Thursday and Friday.  But just looking forward to getting back on the golf course.”

Finally, there was an amusing moment at the end of his interview. It had to do with whether he had watched any of his final round in the Sunday night replay on the Golf Channel:

“Yeah, I went back to the hotel, and while I was eating my pizza in the room, I watched like the last four holes. And I didn’t realize how close Kevin [Streelman] was to birdieing 18, which would have made me have to make the birdie putt at 18 to win.  But yeah, I went from one down to one up on 16 and didn’t really even know it at the time how big it was.”

And for him, the replay didn’t lose any of the drama:

“I got done, and my wife was like, man, your palms are sweating.  (Laughter.)”

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