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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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

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The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

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Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

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''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

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Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

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The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.

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Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 11:20 pm

Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.

They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.

It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.

“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”

The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.