Bittersweet Final For Martin
Text Size

Coming in: On the 31st hole, where the match ended, Ben Martin heads toward the green. (John Mummert/USGA).

By Dave Shedloski

Tulsa, Okla. – No one would have blamed Ben Martin for looking sullen and disconsolate Sunday after his 7-and-5 loss to Byeong-Hun An in the final of the 109th U.S. Amateur at Southern Hills Country Club.

Instead, a smile creased his tan face, and the Clemson University fifth-year senior carried the easy demeanor of a mature young man who simply had a bad day during an otherwise enjoyable week.

“I’m really not that disappointed yet,” said Martin, 21, of Greenwood, S.C., who made a brilliant run in his first Amateur appearance after four qualifying attempts. “I’m sure looking back at the opportunity I had to win, that’s what I wanted to do coming in, and I didn’t get it done. [But] it’s hard to be too disappointed with the perks you get being in the final.”

Indeed, the consolation prizes are a soothing balm after a painfully trying day on one of the country’s most challenging layouts.

In addition to a silver medal, Martin receives an exemption into next year’s U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay Golf Course in University Place, Wash., and into the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links. Traditionally, the Amateur runner-up also receives an invitation into the following year’s Masters Tournament.

An Academic All-American in 2009 and an All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection, Martin showed plenty of pluck in reaching the final against An and gave no indication that he would struggle as much as he did Sunday at Southern Hills.

But struggle he did. “I just didn’t have anything out there today,” he said with a shrug. “As tough as this golf course is, you’ve got to be hitting quality shots. I was just kind of out there searching for something and never found it – especially in that second 18.”

His troubles actually started in the middle of a nip-and-tuck morning melee as both players took circuitous paths from tee to green along Southern Hills’ curving fairways.

Starting with a double bogey at the par-3 seventh, Martin played his next 10 holes in seven over par, and yet found himself only 1 down as An, who suffered two double bogeys in that stretch, was five over par.

Even when he hit superb shots, the results were disappointing. He went flag hunting at the par-3 14th but found the flagstick instead, and the ball caromed right into a bunker. The only consolation was that he still won the hole with a bogey.

Martin, whose last victory came at the 2006 Palmetto Am, finished the morning 3 down, but won the opening hole of the afternoon round. But the rally was stunted at No. 2 when his 5-iron second shot out of the rough from 205 yards flew a few yards too far, caught a downslope just beyond the left greenside bunker, and found the water behind. His struggles only compounded as he continued to miss fairways with a swing that tends to get too steep under pressure.

With the greens firming up, it was difficult to judge approach shots. Thus, Martin didn’t hit a green in regulation until the par-4 ninth, which led to one of his few wins.

“Whenever I’m playing good, it’s something I don’t even think about; I’m just swinging out there,” Martin said. “And when that kind of creeps into my head, it’s usually not a good day.

“I never gave up. I was grinding all day long,” he added. “But I couldn’t find a whole lot out there. I wasn’t playing well enough to apply any pressure.”

Perhaps Martin’s disappointment was tempered by the great strides he’s made since he arrived at Clemson. His first few college seasons were marred by several bouts of pericarditis, which is an inflammation of the two layers of the thin membrane, called the pericardium, which surrounds the heart. It is a relatively common illness often caused by an upper respiratory infection, and it leaves those afflicted lethargic.

He’s come a long way since overcoming those travails, including a berth, via sectional qualifying, in this year’s U.S. Open at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course. He missed the cut, but the appearance itself gave him a spot in this week’s Amateur, and he made the most he could of the opportunity.

“The other Ben played good; he did what he needed to do, and I didn’t give him a great match, but it was a good run and I had a lot of fun,” Martin said. “I just kind of take positives out of the week, and I’ll go back to school and work on some things and just try to get better.”

The good news is he has a lot to build on. That’s one more consolation prize.

Dave Shedloski is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on www.usamateur.org.