AVONDALE, La. – There was no time to revel in the best round of his life. After fulfilling his media obligations Thursday night, Ben Martin packed up the car and joined the rest of his PGA Tour brethren at the player party at the Acme Oyster House, deep in the heart of the French Quarter.
The man had worked up an appetite. Less than an hour after shooting a course-record 62, Martin devoured a platter of chargrilled, fried and raw oysters, with bowls of étouffée and jambalaya on the side.
As the night wore on, about 50 texts came pouring in. One message, in particular, stood out. It was from a buddy back home in South Carolina.
“Dude, nice playing,” the text read. “I haven’t made that many birdies (10) all year.”
Back at TPC Louisiana some 10 hours later, Martin poured in even more on Friday to validate his career day and seize control of this Zurich Classic.
Martin carded six birdies and an eagle during a second-round 67, and at 15-under 129 – a 36-hole tournament scoring record at this Pete Dye design – he is three shots clear of Andrew Svoboda.
“Overall, I don’t think it could have gone much better,” he said afterward.
Yet a few months ago, things couldn’t have gone much worse. Yes, Martin tied for third last week on Hilton Head Island, and he’s 24 under par over his last six rounds. But in his previous four starts – all missed cuts – he was a combined 20 over.
To hear Martin, there apparently was a simple fix. He didn’t need a new putter. He didn’t need a new swing thought. No, he and his Greenville, S.C.-based sports psychologist, Milt Lowder, merely readjusted his goals – from trying to win two times this season to being among the 30 players who tee it up at the Tour Championship.
“I don’t really ever change my swing,” he said. “I don’t really think a whole lot about mechanics. All I changed was my goal at the end of the year. I think it freed me up. I wasn’t as worried about where I was finishing.”
On Friday, Martin led by as many as six shots, as few as two. Starting on the back nine, he played his first four holes in 4 under, then threw away three shots on 17 and 18, the latter after a rinsed tee shot and long-range three-putt.
“Nothing really seems to faze him,” said his new caddie and old Clemson teammate, Alex Boyd, and Martin ran in four more birdies to take a comfortable lead heading into the weekend.
“As good as yesterday was, today was just as important to forget about it and move on,” Boyd added. “He’s setting the bar high.”
Said Martin’s father, Jim: “I told my wife that anything under par would have been good today. To shoot 67, it shocked me.”
A two-time winner last year on the Web.com Tour, Martin will now enter Saturday’s round in the last group for the second week in a row. Last week he held up reasonably well, all things considered, shooting 71-67 to tie for third. Indeed, his move away from a results-oriented goal appears to be working.
Martin says he has kept calm this week by reading a Bible verse – Galations 6:4-5 – that he keeps in his yardage book. The scripture is about focusing on oneself, not worrying about others.
At this point, he hasn’t needed to.