By Ken Klavon, USGA
Tulsa, Okla. – Had Jim Martin been able to do so right then and there, he would have vanished instantly. Instead, all he could do was drop to a knee and bow his head as the rake dangled from his right hand.
“Oh yeah,” said the caddie-father of Ben Martin, who moved onto the U.S. Amateur semifinal round after vanquishing Sweden’s David Lingmerth, 2 and 1, Friday at Southern Hills Country Club. “It was probably the worst feeling I have ever had in my life.”
||The end: David Lingmerth misses a must-make putt on the 17th hole. (John Mummert/USGA)
The scene of the egregious action: the longest par-5 on the course, the 652-yard fifth hole. The setting: Martin’s ball resting in a left greenside bunker, with the fifth-year Clemson senior trailing Lingmerth by one hole.
The weapon: a prosaic rake, minding its own business as it sunned itself.
The 21-year-old Martin had told his father that he was going to get a better look at the angle out of the deep-faced hazard. They communicated. But the communication quickly turned into miscommunication. As Martin reached the top of the green, back to his dad, Jim grabbed the rake and smoothed the pebbles. As rake made contact with sand, Martin had turned back simultaneously in horror, only to utter, “Noooo.”
It was too late. It’s impossible to force smoke back into a gun. The match’s referee delivered the sobering news. Loss of hole for Martin. A one-hole deficit doubled.
“I knew it as soon as it happened,” said Jim Martin, who has caddied countless times for his son. “What’s worse, it’s not as though I didn’t know the rule.”
To paraphrase Rule 13-4, raking a bunker while the ball is still in the hazard is a no-no.
All Martin could do was head to the sixth tee, displeased with the predicament. His dad moved furtively many paces behind. The two finally spoke as they neared the sixth green.
“He said, ‘I’m so sorry,’” said Ben Martin. “He felt worse than I did. I just told him to forget about it.”
Martin had no choice. He was involved in a back-and-forth tilt in which no lead got bigger than 2 up.
Lingmerth, a 22-year-old senior at the University of Arkansas, had seemed in control through the first seven holes despite admittedly mis-clubbing himself and struggling with a balky putter. In fact, the only mid-range putt he converted occurred on No. 12 when he evened the match with a 24-footer.
As they headed to the second nine, the match’s scorecard took on the look of an active heart connected to an electrocardiogram machine. Up and down the leads went.
Lingmerth, who learned the game in Sweden before heading to the U.S. in his late teens to attend Western Florida, sensed he wasn’t on. If he could gut it out and get to Saturday’s semifinal round, he might have time to work on his ball-striking. Martin, a qualifier for this year’s U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, wouldn’t acquiesce. He caught a break on the 16th hole when Lingmerth squandered a prime chance to apply pressure.
Lingmerth pushed his drive into a trove of trees. Martin, meanwhile, tidied up a par by getting on in two and knocking in a 6-footer to go 2 up.
By then, with Jim Martin breathing easier, Martin fell in complete control with two holes to go. It didn’t matter that Lingmerth drove the green on No. 17. The tees had again been moved up 55 yards. It even elicited a “good job” by Martin as the two departed the teeing ground. Martin had casually played it safe, using an iron and stayed in the fairway. In his third-round match against Nico Geyger Thursday, Martin had used a gap wedge from a similar position in the fairway to stick the approach close to the hole. He eliminated Geyger on the same hole, under an identical circumstance.
Moments later the match ended when Lingmerth couldn’t hole in his 18-footer for birdie that would have ostensibly kept it alive.
“I fought hard and had him thinking there down the stretch,” said Lingmerth. “It’s disappointing. Really, I just played bad. He played a little bit better.”
As Martin lingered to watch the Phillip Mollica-Bhavik Patel match, which was one match behind, the subject quickly turned back to the penalty, his dad’s emotions and what could have been.
“I’m glad to be done with [the match],” said Martin. “He would have felt terrible if I lost.”
The air might have gone stale quickly on the 15-hour ride back to their Greenwood, S.C., home.
“It would have been one long ride back to South Carolina,” said Jim Martin, shaking his head.
The better news is there are still two matches left to send them both home ebullient.
Ken Klavon is the USGA’s Editor of Digital Media. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.