The first time I encountered Mo Martin was six years ago at a stop in Concord, N.H., on what then was known as the Duramed Futures Tour. On a late July weekend, the diminutive Californian schooled the field, closing with rounds of 66-67 to win by four strokes.
In the final round, Martin’s drives regularly trailed those of playing partner Gerina Mendoza (now Piller) by 50 yards, but she rarely missed the fairway. She capped her triumph by making a long birdie putt on the last hole with a putter that was almost as tall as she is. And among those cheering her home was her then-96-year-old grandfather, Lincoln Martin, a California rancher named after Abe Lincoln who had flown from Bakersfield to New Hampshire by way of Phoenix and Charlotte, N.C., to watch Mo compete.
All the while, Martin exuded infectious enthusiasm and was unfailingly accommodating to fans, tournament officials and the media. I came away with the sense that this girl got it, and I would later find myself rooting for her as she clawed her way onto the LPGA.
As the golf world now knows, it took Martin six seasons on what’s now the Symetra Tour to earn her LPGA card. On Sunday, in only her third season on the big tour, she authored the unlikeliest of triumphs, capturing the Ricoh Women’s British Open with a dramatic eagle on the 18th hole at Royal Birkdale. With only one previous LPGA top-10 to her credit, she took down the likes of Inbee Park, Shanshan Feng and Suzann Pettersen – past major champions all – and etched her name alongside Francis Ouimet, Jack Fleck and John Daly in the annals of surprise major winners.
During her weekend in the spotlight, Martin paid tribute to her grandfather, who died in March at 102 and was perhaps her biggest booster. And she mentioned using part of her nearly half-million-dollar winner’s check to help keep Lincoln’s California ranch in her family.
Moreover, it should be noted that Martin won while wielding a short putter after having used a broomstick model for almost her entire golfing life. Her late father, Allen, had put a long putter in her hand as a child, and she switched at the end of last season following the USGA and R&A’s announced ban on anchoring starting in 2016.
The blue blazers in Far Hills and their fellow rulemaking chaps in St. Andrews no doubt are cheering Martin’s victory as validation for their decision.
More than anything, however, Martin’s win strikes me as a case of good things happening to good people.