Jun 11

Interview With: Ben Martin

Posted By:Brett Haynes  Tags:

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Photo: with permission from B. Martin

A year ago, he got close - but just missed. This year, there would be no denying. By finishing first in a sectional qualifier for the U.S. Open at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Maryland last week, Ben Martin will be playing with the best in the game when they tee it up next week from Bethpage State Golf Course in Farmingdale, New York. At stake will be the 2009 U.S. Open Championship. I spoke Thursday with the Clemson golfer  to ask him how he is feeling as these huge moments in his young, promising golf career unfold.

I have known Ben for quite some time, and there is no surprise that he has now qualified to play in this event. His work ethic is second to none, and he has evolved as a golfer each and every year from high school through his Clemson career. He also gets it done in the classroom, sporting a 3.45 GPA as a rising senior at the University.

This isn't a fairy-tale, cinderella type story by any means, but rather one of steady progression, hard-work and a commitment to reach a goal that is deeply desired. Martin wasn't a big-time golf recruit when he came out of Greenwood (SC) High School in 2005. In fact, he was recruited only by smaller schools around the South. But he earned a chance at a spot on the Tiger golf team by the good graces of Coach Larry Penley, who gave him a shot as Martin showed glimpses of promise. Already on an academic scholarship, and a determined hard-worker, Martin possessed right away two of the things that are hallmarks of the Clemson golf program. But he had to step up his golf game, and so he did.

Clemson had won the national championship just two years previously, in 2003, and so the Tigers were plucking big-name recruits from all over the country, basically taking their pick of the cream of the crop. Martin knew earning a spot on the squad would be tough, and so he hit the range as much as he could. He played well enough to earn a spot on the roster, but was red-shirted his freshmen year as "bigger name" recruits and current players were all around him.

But he would not be happy with riding the pine. As things outside of his control fell into place, and his game improved at the same time (he won the Palmetto Amateur that summer), Martin found himself as an active member of the Tiger golf team in 2006. And not only did he contribute to the team, but he made All-ACC as a redshirt freshman. After a sophomore year that he would like to forget most of, he came back as a junior in 2008 with a very solid season. He finished in the top 11 in four consecutive tournaments, and helped lead Clemson to a regional number 1 seed entering the NCAA regional in New Jersey. But the Tigers failed to get out of that regional, and the dissapointment was bitter. So for Martin, it was back to the driving range and the practice green.

And the hard work payed off. He was able to shake the dissapointment of the NCAA regionals, and focus on qualifying for Bethpage. As he prepares to go up against the best golfers in the world, I asked him a few questions:

The Top Fan: So how and when did you know that you had made it and would be competing in the U.S. Open?

Ben Martin: I made it through this past Monday, the 8th, in Rockville, MD, which is just north of Washington, DC at Woodmont Country Club. But I had to make it through a local qualifier in Spartanburg at Carolina Country Club about three weeks ago in order to be there. That local qualifier was one day, 18 holes. I shot a 69 and finished 3rd out of 90 guys (there were six spots there), then I advanced to the sectional qualifier. In Maryland there were 71 guys playing for 7 spots to get into The Open. Some good players (Fred Funk, Carlos Franco, both winners on the PGA Tour, Michael Sims, the leading money winner on the Nationwide Tour this year) just to name a few. It was 36 holes in one day. I shot 68 in the morning and was in 5th place so I knew I would have to do that once again in the afternoon round. I went back out, hit the ball great again and shot another 68. That put me 8-under for the day and I ended up finishing as the medalist (1st place). I was very close last year to qualifying in the Atlanta sectional. I shot 10-under and tied for the last spot with DJ Trahan, former Clemson All-American, he birdied the 3rd playoff hole to beat me and ended up finishing 4th in The Open last year.

TTF: Were you surprised? Or did you expect to make it?

BM: After coming so close last year, I knew that I could play well enough to make it this year. Golf is such a mental game that you must expect to play well in order to play well. As my dad and I were leaving the course he said to me something like, "I'm kinda in shock and can't believe you'll be in The Open next week." And I said, "you know I just expected to make it" so I wasn't quite as excited as my parents were.

TTF: Have you ever visited Bethpage Black or played it? What do you know about it?

BM: I've never been up there before and the only thing I really remember is watching on TV in 2002 and how long the course was. I have looked up the scorecard on the internet but there's not a lot you can get out of that so I'm looking forward to playing a few practice rounds.

TTF: What are your preparation plans? Will you prepare for this event differently than your collegiate events?

BM: Yeah, I think this well definitely be the toughest course I have ever played. I'll try and focus on making sure I can get the ball out of the rough because that's what The Open is known for. And focus on getting familiar with the greens - similar things that I do for all my other events, but this week will take extra attention to detail because of the difficulty.

TTF: How much will Coach Penley be involved in your Open experience?

BM: I've talked to him since I've qualified but he won't have a huge role. He has his summer golf camps going on right now so he stays busy with that for the next couple of weeks.

TTF: How is your mother doing after the incident with the errant golf shot she took? She will certainly be at The Open watching your every shot, I'm sure.

BM: Yeah, she's doing alright. She had about ten stiches in her lip, but the cut has healed up well. I would bet she might be scouting out some trees to hide behind during the practice rounds just in case any errant tee shots come her way!

TTF: How overwhelmed are you? Of course any young man would be overwhelmed by this, but just how much have you had a chance to soak it all in?

BM: I don't think it will really hit me until I get there. I'm actually up in Johnstown, PA this week playing the Sunnehanna Invitational, which is one of the top five amateur tournaments in the country. So I went straight here from qualifying in Maryland, will be here through Sunday, and then head over to Long Island Monday morning. So I've been on the go. But like last night I was going to sleep and just thinking "wow I'm gonna be in The Open next week" and just kinda started laughing to myself, so i'ts gonna be an awesome experience.

TTF: When and how does it get started? Is there a big dinner or a big meeting? How will you know "hey, its here"....

BM: I'm planning on getting over there and checking in Monday afternoon and hoping to go out and play nine holes or something just to get out there and start soaking it all in. That way maybe by Thursday I won't be nervous on the first tee (haha, yeah right). and I do get a Lexus to drive around for the week!

TTF: Very nice! Future sponsporship, maybe!...Have the former Clemson golfers who now play professionally called you to congratulate you?

BM: I've talked to Charles Warren (though he's not playing) and then my caddie for the week, Michael Sims, who graduated from Clemson in '03 and was on the golf team is buddies with DJ Trahan and we're gonna play a practice round with him on Tuesday. And I've also talked with Kyle Stanley (fellow Clemson teammate) since he qualified in Columbus to go (there will be seven amateurs competing) and we'll probably try and play a practice round together.

TTF: Is an obvious first goal to play as well as possible and try to make the cut?

BM: Yeah, definitely to make the cut but I'm mainly just looking forward to the experience, seeing what a major championship is all about, getting my feet wet and hopefully know what to expect in the years to come.

 

Everyone knows that the US Open is perhaps the toughest golf tournament on the planet. Amateurs rarely fair well in this event, and Martin knows not to think too much about the results - good or bad - that will present themselves next week. The main thing is that his game continues to get better, year after year. And with that being the case, next week - no matter how great - will not be the pinnacle of this golfer's career.

 ******Martin will tee off on the 10th hole at 9:01 AM  EST next Thursday in a threesome with Kevin Silva and Josh McCumber. *******

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