By Tim Bourret
Susie Martin’s summer schedule got a lot more hectic on Sunday. Her son Ben, the former Clemson All-American, qualified for The Open Championship at Royal Liverpool in England by finishing in a tie for third at the Quicken Loan National at famed Congressional Country Club with a strong final round even par 71 on a day when the average score was nearly 74.
“Mom is going over her schedule right now to see what she can do about getting to the British Open,” said a joyous Ben Martin on Sunday night from his residence for the week near Washington, D.C.
Susie Martin is one of the all-time great moms of Clemson golf and has followed Ben’s career since he started playing junior tournaments near his home of Greenwood, S.C. A long time school teacher, she caught as many tournaments as she could when Ben played for Clemson from 2006-10.
Susie was once struck in the head by a tee shot from 250 yards away by a Georgia Tech player at a tournament near Atlanta. She was taken to a nearby emergency room, was stitched up and was back at the course to see Ben play the 18th hole.
She and her husband Jim have seen Ben play in the US Open (twice), the Masters and many other big PGA Tour events. But there is nothing like The Open Championship.
Martin earned a career best $377,000 on Sunday. The 2009 Clemson graduate who played his final spring of 2010 as a graduate student, had rounds of 72-68-70-71 to finish with a three-under-par 281 score.
Martin qualified under a new exemption that allows the top four finishers at the Quicken Loan National not previously exempt to gain a spot in The Open Championship as long as they finish in the top 12. Martin was third among those players in the event that Justin Rose won in a playoff.
It was quite a Sunday for Martin, who began the day in a tie for fifth place. When he scored a double bogey six on the par four 10th hole, it appeared his only goal on Sunday would be a top 25 finish. He was in 19th place at even par for the tournament when he walked off that 10th green.
But, he rolled in a 13 foot birdie putt on 13, then made a 17 footer on 16 to get to two under. One more birdie could get him a British Open invite.
“I knew that goal was out there, but I didn’t really think about it until the final four holes,” said Martin. “I was just taking it one hole at a time, trying to finish as high as I could. I didn’t really know what the other players were doing outside of Justin (Rose, his playing partner on Sunday).”
On 17 he made one of the best and important shots of his life.
“I hit my second shot from the fairway into the bunker right of the green. When I hit it I thought it was a really good shot, but it just caught the bunker.
“When I got to the bunker, I saw it was a good uphill lie. I told Alex (his caddy Alex Boyd, his former Clemson teammate), that I had not made a bunker shot in a while and this would be a good time to do it.”
Entering this week, Martin was 94th on tour in converting bunker shots into pars, as he had accomplished the feat 50 percent of the time. But, he increased that stat ranking significantly when he made the 39 foot shot.
“I hit it just right and it rolled just like I thought it would,” said Martin. He and Boyd celebrated the shot and Martin went to three under par, the slot he had started the day.
With the field scoring 2.7 strokes over par for the day, Martin was ahead of the game and was now in third place overall, just two shots behind Rose.
On 18, Martin hit a perfect drive, but Rose hooked his shot into the trees. The former US Open Champion then hit his second shot into the water. “At the start of the hole, I was thinking about just making a par to get in the British Open. But, when Justin hit his second shot into the water, I thought I had a chance to win this tournament.”
Martin had a 25 foot putt for birdie and he left it just two inches to the right. Had it gone in he would have qualified for a playoff. Rose got up and down thanks to a 10 foot bogey putt and finished at four under, one shot better than Martin.
It was another terrific tournament for Martin, who has now made a career best seven straight cuts. He is 33-under-par for those seven events and has been at even par or better for all seven. His earnings for the year are now nearly $1.4 million.
The secret to his summer success? You can ask him about swing thoughts or putting changes, but there is one common fact with the beginning of the streak. It started when Boyd came on his bag.
“We were good friends at Clemson and being comfortable with your caddy is very important. He has credibility with me when he gives advice because I think of him as a player. He has played the game and when he gives me advice on a shot I am usually comfortable with it. We have played a lot together and he knows my game.”
Boyd played at Clemson from 2009-12 and was a sophomore when Martin was a senior. While he was an off and on starter, Boyd does hold the distinction of being the only player in Clemson history to make a double eagle in a tournament.
It started out as a trial run a couple of months ago. Now these two former Tigers will be traveling to the British Open together.
“I am really excited because I have never played overseas. It is such a different game, but it is going to be fun.”
Fun for Ben, Boyd, and Susie Martin for sure.