A magical moment for Mo Martin
SOUTHPORT, England -- Sometimes it is not enough to be big of stature, either in name or game.
Sometimes being big of heart is.
So Mo Martin proved by winning the Women's British Open on a day when the wind finally blew with all its might at brutal Royal Birkdale.
Only Martin was up to the challenge as she topped a leaderboard full of major champions -- a group she now joins. She did so with the shot of her life on the 18th hole.
When it rolled on the ground, I said, 'Sit.' Then I said, 'Go.' But then it looked perfect, so I didn't have to say anything.Mo Martin
Martin had 230 yards to the green with a strong wind across. "I aimed very far left and hit a full 3-wood," she said. "When it rolled on the ground, I said, 'Sit.' Then I said, 'Go.' But then it looked perfect, so I didn't have to say anything."
The ball hit the flagstick and almost went in for a double-eagle but rebounded only a short distance away. She holed the 6-foot putt as if it was the winning moment, even if a long wait followed.
Inbee Park, the overnight leader, Shanshan Feng and Suzann Pettersen, playing behind Martin, all had the chance to tie her 1-under-par score, but on this occasion they were bested by an unheralded player having the week of her life.
Sport is all the better for moments like this. "It's unbelievable, absolutely a dream come true," Martin said.
She had not known whether to laugh or cry as she jumped into the arms of her caddie Kyle Morrison when news of her victory came to the practice range, where she was preparing for a possible playoff. On returning to the area of the 18th green she was mobbed and sprayed with champagne by fellow competitors genuinely delighted by her sudden success.
Martin, from California, is 31 years old and stands only 5-foot-2. Ranked 99th in the world, she is one of the shortest hitters on tour but, crucially this week with the rough high at this historic links, is one of the most accurate.
This is her third year on the LPGA Tour, where she had recorded only one previous top-10 finish. She had three wins in six years on the secondary Symetra Tour, but there was no swift promotion to the big time.
She is the classic overnight success that has been a work in progress for years and years. "It's definitely a Cinderella story," Martin said. Nothing has been handed to her that has not been earned and repaid many times over in gratitude and thanks.
"No one can do this on their own," she said. "So many people have come together to make this possible. Just to get me to junior tournaments, to help me travel, to have the opportunity to walk-on at UCLA. I wish I could thank everybody right now, but they absolutely know who they are."
Martin was taught the game from the age of 4 by her father using an instruction book -- not just any book, but Ben Hogan's "Five Fundamentals" -- and only after building a cage in their driveway.
"We didn't have a lot of money growing up," Martin said. "We couldn't afford lessons, but he knew it was going to be a great sport, so he taught my brother and I."
When Martin was 19, her father passed away. Up until then she had had little contact with her paternal grandfather, Lincoln Martin, a former geophysicist and aeronautical engineer.
"Family dynamics are funny. My dad didn't really have a relationship with him," she said. "My grandpa didn't agree with some things he did. But I knew my grandpa was somebody I really wanted to get to know."
She drove to his ranch in Porterville, California, and discovered he had been following her career all along.
"I walked into his office, and there were these newspaper articles and pictures," she said. "I started crying. I was overwhelmed because I didn't know he was that involved in my life.
"He was like a silent follower, but he was caring and loving me all the time."
Lincoln Martin was present for all her Symetra wins and at many of her early LPGA events, handing out "Go Mo" badges. In March, Martin took another trip to his ranch just in time to say goodbye before he died. He was 102.
"He changed my life," she said. "He made everything so much brighter and better. I miss him, but I'm so grateful that I had the time I had with him. I'm incredibly blessed."
Three things have kept Martin pursuing her dream over the years: "If I still woke up and I was happy in the morning; if I was still contributing to the women's game and growing it; and if I was paying my own bills."
And three things came together to make her first victory a possibility. At St. Andrews last year, she picked up a short putter and holed the first three putts she took with it. Her coach Ian Triggs said she had a better stroke with the short blade than with the long putter she had used her entire career, from juniors onward. Martin switched at the end of last season and found immediate success.
Then she arrived at Royal Birkdale. "I fell in love with the course the moment I saw it," she said. "My caddie and I put some great work in. I think the layout is absolutely phenomenal, and the officials set it up perfectly."
Finally, the wind arrived on Sunday, blowing more than 20 mph and gusting to 30 mph at times.
"I love the wind," said Martin, whose first win on the Symetra Tour came in El Paso, Texas, with 40 mph gusts. "I love working the ball against the wind and having fun with it. Kyle came up with some great yardages. I probably only hit two or three wrong clubs all week."
Martin led by three shots Friday night but wilted in the spotlight Saturday, experiencing the television cameras following her every move all day for the first time. She shot 77. On Sunday, she kept steadily to her job until the eagle at the 18th -- her first of the season. Perfect timing. Her 72 matched the best score of the day.
It was a moment that revealed the heart of a champion, as did her acceptance of victory and all that the status of being a major champion will bring.
"I'm just grateful for having the career I have," she said. "I mean, I'm living the dream every day."
Part of the spoils will go toward securing her grandpa's ranch. "We're going to be able to keep the ranch, which is what I wanted," she said. "It is kind of my sanctuary. I have all these memories of being with my grandpa. My aunt Mary made the big effort, and it's almost finalized to keep it in the family. Now I can help keep it up. We need a new roof, things like that."
Martin added: "I just want to say there are so many amazing people in this world and not enough is said about the good deeds people do, things unspoken, unspoken kindness. So many people have helped me when I've needed it. I've definitely had a few angels in my life."
Mo Martin, small in stature but big in heart, deserves nothing less.