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Clemson Student-Athlete Feature: Ben Martin

Clemson Student-Athlete Feature: Ben Martin

Oct. 21, 2009

Watching Lucas Glover make a four-foot putt on the 18th hole to close out the 2009 U.S. Open will be a lasting memory for all Clemson fans who follow former Tigers in professional events. It was arguably the greatest accomplishment by any former Tiger in a professional athletic contest.

But Glover was just one of four Tigers at the event at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, NY. Kyle Stanley and D.J. Trahan played with Glover during the first two rounds and made their own lasting memories. Stanley made the cut and finished third among amateurs.

But a fourth Tiger had a week’s worth of lasting memories, and it was an experience that could have a lasting effect on his soon-to-be professional career.

Ben Martin, the senior leader of the 2009-10 Tiger team, made the 156-player field as an amateur after winning a sectional qualifier in Maryland with an eight-under-par score in 36 holes in one day. He had lost a heartbreaking playoff at the same stage at a qualifier in Georgia the year before to Trahan, so getting to the “Big Dance” of pro golf was very exciting.

Martin made the most of his opportunity. After beginning play with two-and-a-half holes on Thursday, play was halted due to rain. On Friday, he was back on the course at 7:30 AM with the rest of the field. He made a 12-foot birdie putt on the 13th hole to get to even par, then he made a 20-footer on the 17th hole to move to one-under, a putt that brought a great ovation from the large crowd. With that putt, he was tied for the lead at one-under par. Then after a 20-footer on the second hole for another birdie, he was suddenly two-under and in the lead by himself.

“I will remember that day for a long time,” said Martin. “Your first round in your first major is going to be memorable no matter what you do, but to have the lead in the U.S. Open at any point was quite a thrill.

“We didn’t have that many people following us until we made the turn, but when I got to a tie for the lead it picked up. I looked at the scoreboard for the first time on 18 and that was pretty cool to see your name at the top of the leaderboard at the U.S. Open.

“I kept telling myself to stay focused on each shot. I didn’t get carried away and kept playing well.”

Martin was tied for the lead or held the lead outright from 10:15 AM until 11:15 AM on June 19. Every time the leaderboard was shown on ESPN during that time, it brought pride to all Tiger fans.

“I looked at my mom and dad throughout the day and it was so much fun to see them so excited. It was a lot easier to find them earlier in the day, but it was harder to see them on the second nine because our gallery increased. They have been so supportive for my entire golf career.”

Martin made some driving errors coming in, but he never made a big number and finished with five bogeys and three birdies for the day to finish with a two-over 72 and a 38th-place standing.

His second round was not as successful. While he was in the hunt to make the cut after nine holes, he made a triple bogey on the 10th hole that ruined his round, as he finished with a 78 and a 150 score through 36 holes. Still, the second round had a highlight as well, as he hit his tee shot on the par-three #17 to within one foot, and the shot was shown on NBC with full commentary from Johnny Miller.

“It was disappointing to miss the cut after I was under the cutline for most of the first two rounds, but as I look back, it was the best golfing experience of my life. To be around all those professionals for a week and see how they practiced and conducted themselves was an invaluable learning experience.”

Martin knew that was a special time in his life, as did his parents, who have followed his career from close range since he began playing in junior events.

“I got a few hats and shirts from the merchandise tent so that I have some memories of that week. I know my parents must have spent some big money in that tent. My family enjoyed the week very much.”

Now Martin must refocus his priorities toward his senior year at Clemson. He was a First-Team All-ACC selection in 2007 and 2009, and his career stroke average of 73.36 is 14th-best in school history. To leave a lasting legacy at Clemson, he is looking forward to a strong final season, one in which he will have to provide leadership to a young team that features nine combined freshmen and sophomores.

Head Coach Larry Penley was proud of Martin’s performance at the U.S. Open and knows it will only help him as he enters his senior season.

“I can’t tell you how proud I was of Ben,” said Penley. “We all followed Lucas’ win, but we actually had two Tiger golfers hold the lead during the tournament.

“A lot of great golfers go their entire career without holding the lead at the U.S. Open. That will be a memory he will have forever. But most importantly, that experience will give him great confidence.

“He knows he can compete with those guys. When you look at the standings after two rounds, even with a rough second round, he still finished higher than three players who had won Majors (Ernie Els, Michael Campbell, Padraig Harrington).”

Martin will return to the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 2010 by virtue of his runner-up finish at the U.S. Amateur at Southern Hills Country Club last weekend.

As the most experienced player and one of just two seniors on the team, Martin knows he will be called upon as a leader.

“I know I will be counted on for leadership and production this year. We have some talented players, but we lack overall experience. We were very disappointed with our performance at the regional last year. Hopefully, it will motivate us to get back to the nationals and have a great tournament like we did in 2008.”

Tim Bourret is Clemson’s Sports Information Director and is in his 32nd year at Clemson.