SOUTHPORT, England - Major champions recently have come from a group of bombers, the ladies on tour who hit it a mile and hit irons that seemingly pierce the sky. At 5-foot-2, Mo Martin doesn’t have the frame or game for that, and her game’s never translated to a major with a tie for 29th as her best finish in a major.
But at the RICOH Women’s British Open it hasn’t mattered. The pot bunkers are penalizing, the fairways seem to narrow even more the further players hit it, the fairways roll out more than you’ll ever see in the states and hitting it in the rough just off the fairway requires a pitch out. In other words, driving accuracy at Royal Birkdale comes at a higher premium than any other track players tee it up at all season.
And no one on tour hits fairways more than often Martin (86%). That was on full display Friday. After opening with a 3-under-par 69, Martin followed it up with another 3-under-par 69 to take a three-shot lead into Saturday.
“Well, strategy, my caddie, Kyle, and I, just figured out where the widest parts of the fairway were, where I would have the best approaches into the greens,” Martin said. “I don’t hit it particularly long, so just capitalizing on my accuracy.”
Martin, at 234.1 yards per drive for the year, is one of the shortest drivers on tour (156th) and one of the shortest in the field, but at Royal Birkdale that doesn’t really matter. Even the longer players are having to hit hybrids off numerous tees and the par-5s because of the placement of the pot bunkers in front of the green are proving difficult to run shots up on in two. Even despite being one of the shorter hitters in the field, the layout forced Martin to hit five 3-woods off the tee on Friday.
“That’s particularly unusual for me. I’m usually driver all the time,” she said. “But just picking good targets, that’s really key on this golf course, and executing it.”
A different challenge awaits Martin come Saturday, though – sleeping overnight with a major championship lead. And it’s a challenge she has no experience with.
“I’ll definitely be nervous aturay, there’s no doubt about that,” Martin said. “But that’s part of the game. I think everybody playing on the weekend is going to be nervous, too, and I’m going to embrace that.”
She was in the top-10 at the Kraft Nabisco Championship after the second round, but that’s far different from seeing your name etched at the top of the leaderboard. The experience she’ll have to draw from is the way she handled it Friday. After vaulting into the lead with back-to-back birdies at Nos. 6 and 7 and then a birdie at 10, Martin bogeyed Nos. 11 and 12. However, she didn’t let that rattle her, steadying herself to birdie two of the final six to finish off her 3-under 69. That kind of poise should serve her well on Sunday.
It won’t help her cause that she believes she has a guardian angel overlooking her on Royal Birkdale Golf Club. Her granddad, the biggest supporter in her golf career, was there for every one of her wins in juniors, college and on the Symetra Tour, but he died in March. He’ll still be there if she’s able to handle the nerves and lift the trophy on Sunday.
“My grandpa is here around my neck in spirit,” she said. “He was an absolutely phenomenal man and influence in my life.”
She wasn’t alone in feeling his presence and his impact. Since March, he may not be with her on the course following along like usual, but he’s always there with her, both around her neck and in the words of strangers.
“I think the positive that came about was so many people came up to me and talked about how important he was to them and people told me that just meeting him has made them a better man, a better person,” Martin said. “Just reflecting on those memories, I mean, they have made them even stronger for me. I’ve just been so blessed. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to count my blessings.”
No blessing would be bigger than winning a Women’s British Open – both for Martin and her biggest influence.