Martin's improbable major win rooted in family

By Randall MellJuly 27, 2015, 9:00 pm

TURNBERRY, Scotland – Perhaps Melissa “Mo” Martin’s grandfather captured one of those butterflies visiting the avocado orchards on his ranch in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada and whispered a wish to it.

Maybe that explains the enchantment in Martin’s winning the Ricoh Women’s British Open the way she did last year.

According to Indian legend in those Sierra foothills, if you capture a butterfly, “The Great Spirit” will grant any wish the butterfly carries to it in gratitude for the butterfly’s release.

It would explain the magic, because Martin’s victory at Royal Birkdale was as close to a fairy-tale ending as the star driven LPGA gets these days. With all the international talent at the top of the women’s game, you don’t see Cinderella stories breaking through anymore, not in major championships.

You don’t see butterflies cashing in wishes.

Martin’s grandfather, Lincoln Martin, didn’t get to see Mo win at Royal Birkdale last year, but she knows he would have relished being there. He adored her. An extraordinary character of many talents, he seemed to have lived multiple lives with boundless energy. He was a geophysicist, an engineer, an inventor and also a musician. Even after turning 100, he would still fly to watch Mo play, riding a scooter around the courses. He saw all three of her Symetra Tour victories, and he devoted a room at his California ranch house to her. He dedicated an entire wall in the room to her, posting clippings, photos and a map marking her golf journeys.

He also built a trophy case there to display all the hardware Mo won growing up.

Lincoln didn’t get to see the Women’s British Open trophy added to the case, though. He died of skin and prostate cancer four months before she won. He was 102. Mo carried a tangible reminder of his presence with her at Royal Birkdale. She won wearing a necklace with his initials attached.

“Actually, I don’t think she ever takes it off,” said her caddie, Kyle Morrison.

When Mo returned with family this past spring to spread her grandfather’s ashes on his ranch outside Porterville, Calif., a funny thing happened.

A migration of butterflies descended on the place.

“I had ordered a few butterflies to do a butterfly release,” said Mary Cadieux, Mo’s aunt and Lincoln’s daughter. “Instead, we found the grove filled with butterflies. They seemed to have gathered there for the event. Anytime the Martin clan gathers, it’s a special event, but that was truly memorable.”

Mo grew up in Pasadena, but Lincoln’s ranch became a special place for her, a second home.

After Lincoln’s death, there was uncertainty whether the family could afford to keep his 100-acre ranch. There were taxes to be paid, repairs to be made. Mo’s victory helped Aunt Mary solve some of the problems. The biggest payday of her life ($474,000) helped buy a new roof for her grandfather’s home. It helped keep the ranch in the family, not just for Mo, but for all the Martins.


Lincoln Martin's ranch

“It’s a very special place,” Mo said. “It’s hard to describe without your being able to see it. I think it’s just a very important place to all of us, a sanctuary for all our family. It’s tucked away in the mountains, a very beautiful, very peaceful place.”

Mo carries the charms of that special place with her, but family knows the real magic to her winning at Royal Birkdale was what she made herself. Winning there made sense to them. In many ways, she was groomed for the ordeal that Sunday offered.

Yes, Martin was a long shot to emerge from a star-studded leaderboard with major championship winners Inbee Park, Suzann Pettersen and Shanshan Feng battling down the stretch for the victory. Martin, after all, had never won an LPGA title, hadn’t even led after any round in her 63 previous starts in LPGA events. She was a 31-year-old journeywoman who toiled for six years on the Symetra Tour before finally getting her chance to play the LPGA.  She was No. 99 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in vital ways her game was made for the conditions at Royal Birkdale.

At 5 feet 2, Martin may be one of the LPGA’s shortest hitters, but she is most dependably its straightest. She’s leading the tour this year in driving accuracy hitting an almost ridiculous 89.8 percent of the fairways she sees. She also led the tour in driving accuracy last year and the year before that.

“When she does miss, it’s usually by a foot,” Morrison said.

With the winds blowing heavy in last year’s final round, Martin put all her skills to bear navigating Royal Birkdale’s punishing routes through thick heather and gorse. It wasn’t just her ability to hit the ball straight that favored her in those conditions. It was her ability to shape shots in the wind. It was also her attitude, the way she relished the challenge.

“I love playing in the wind,” Martin said. “I can control my ball flight. I can hit it low. I can hit it higher. I can work it both left-to-right and right-to-left. So, I’m comfortable playing those shots.”

Morrison watched Martin consistently hit the shots Royal Birkdale demanded.

“Because Mo hits it shorter, people don’t think of her as a ball-striker, but she’s definitely one of the best ball-strikers on tour,” Morrison said. “The style of game over here is so foreign to what we are used to growing up in the United States, but it fits her to a tee. She likes courses where you really have to think your way around, where it’s ‘Hey, do we have to land this 8-iron 10 yards short of the green or 30 yards short of the green?’ It’s never boring golf, and she likes that.”

Martin started the final round three shots behind Park with Pettersen, Feng and Stacy Lewis all ahead of her on the leaderboard. Using her ability to keep her trajectory low, to hold shots against the wind, Martin fought her way to the clubhouse lead a good hour before Park finished. Martin did so closing out her round with one of the greatest shots in major championship history.

In the fairway at the 18th, with the wind roaring off her left, Martin stood over a 3-wood from 237 yards and ran a bullet up on to the green, where it bounded obediently before slowing and rattling off the flagstick, nearly falling in for an albatross. She holed a 6-foot eagle, her first eagle of the year, to close out a 72.


Mo Martin's approach on the 72nd hole at Royal Birkdale. (Getty)

Martin finished at 1-under 287, the only player to break par for the week. Her final-round 72 equaled the round of the day. Park closed with a 77, Pettersen and Feng with 75s and Lewis with a 78.

There was no wishing in Martin’s last 3-wood through crosswinds and a narrow, bunkered opening to the 18th green.

Martin pulled off exactly what she intended in the shot of a lifetime.

“It was a pretty complicated shot,” Martin said. “The wind was left to right, and there was a little bit of left to right in my lie. I was playing a draw to fight those factors. I was playing a draw against the wind. In my mind, I can still see it crystal clear.”

Martin’s father, Allen, first put a golf club in Mo’s hands when she was 3, maybe 4. If there’s an embedded secret to how straight she hits the ball, it’s in the discipline he created in her swing right from the start. He taught her out of Ben Hogan’s book “Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.” She remembers going to kindergarten unable to wipe away the lines her father drew onto the palms of her hands. He made X’s with permanent markers to help her align her grip.

“When I first started, he wouldn’t let me take a full swing until my backswing was perfect,” Martin said.

Her father’s influence is also a large factor in her ability to hit both fades and draws.

“My dad didn’t know how big my fingers were going to get, so he had me go to the 10-finger grip,” Martin said. “Now, my hands are big for my size. I wear a medium glove, but I’ve stayed with the 10-finger grip. I think it actually helps me work the ball.”

Mo’s father also helped her develop a fighter’s instinct, a survivalist mentality, that worked for her at Royal Birkdale. She didn’t grow up playing at a country clubs. She learned to play hitting into a net in her front yard. Her father was an attorney, but he was a struggling attorney with financial problems.

Allen saw a mighty spirit in his diminutive daughter, the youngest of his three children, and he began calling her “Mighty Mo” based on his admiration for the USS Missouri battleship.

“The Mighty Missouri was a workhorse that always took care of business, that endured and survived,” says Martin's mother Linda, who still likes to call Mo by her given name, Melissa. “That’s what Melissa’s father saw in her. She always took care of business.

“Melissa had this tremendous work ethic growing up, and she was always so goal oriented. When her brother, Don, came home with a golf trophy, that was it. Melissa wanted one of those shiny trophies, too. She always knew what she had to do to reach her goals. She was a good student, and she would come home with A’s, but she loved golf. She would be at the door after school saying, ‘Come on, Mommy, let’s go. I want to get to the golf course.’”

Mo’s father was her long-time coach, but he died unexpectedly of a heart attack when he was 60, when Mo was at UCLA, where she walked on before earning a full scholarship after her freshman year. Mo’s father was the only coach she ever knew. His death was so traumatic, she decided to take a redshirt year at UCLA and study abroad. She studied in in Siena, Italy.

“It was the perfect thing for her to do, to re-evaluate her life and her goals,” Linda said. “She returned to UCLA even more focused and determined ... and speaking fluent Italian.”

That’s about the time Mo’s grandfather came more fully into Mo’s life. Mo’s father and grandfather did not see eye to eye on certain things and became estranged, and that meant Mo didn’t get to see much of Lincoln growing up. When she first visited his ranch while at UCLA, she was overwhelmed. Mo saw the wall full of newspaper clippings documenting her career, and she got emotional.

“I cried when I saw it,” Mo said.

Linda saw Lincoln step into an empty spot in Mo’s life.

“He filled in that fatherly, grandfatherly role,” Linda said. “He was a remarkable person, just an amazing man, so positive. He was a great influence for Melissa.”

Mo began driving over from UCLA to see Lincoln regularly. She called him every day.

“I mean every day,” Mo said. “It’s changed my life significantly, just being around him and knowing him. He was the most peaceful person I’ve ever met. In talking to his children, none of us have ever heard him say a bad word about anybody. So, to be that grateful, and that simple, and that smart, and that kind, I can’t think of a better influence in my life.”

Kyle was always impressed at how modern Lincoln remained. He had his own iPad before it was common.

“He embraced new technology,” Kyle said. “You hear how older people can be bitter about technology, but he would text Mo and FaceTime with Mo.”

Mary, Mo’s aunt, saw how Mo and Lincoln filled holes in each other’s lives.

“My father was a shy, reticent man,” Mary said. “His relationship with Mo made him so comfortable expressing his love for her and his delight in her accomplishments.”

Mo makes her home today in Naples, Fla., but Lincoln’s ranch remains a sanctuary for her, one she’s grateful her entire family can still enjoy.

“It makes us all happy that we can continue to go to the ranch and soak up the memories, the peacefulness and beauty and bounty that are there,” Mary said. “And recall Lincoln’s respect and love for that land ... My father would have been so pleased.”

Mo’s Women’s British Open trophy is spending time with Mo’s mother but it will eventually find its place in the trophy case Lincoln built on his ranch. It’ll be home there amid all the special memories ... and the butterflies that occasionally visit.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.