Never Quit!

I believe that everyone was born perfect for what they’re meant to accomplish in this lifetime. An important (and fun!) part of life’s journey is finding and using our unique and special gifts.

As the saying goes, life is a journey and not a destination. And it didn’t take winning a major championship for me to learn that.

Even as a child learning to love this game, it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine. I learned that we grow, not in spite of the challenges but because of them. Things weren’t always perfect – and that’s just fine. The successes and failures along the way made me appreciate those moments that culminated so much effort. I fell in love with golf through all the things it gave me, and just as importantly, through those things it didn’t.

If you are a casual golf fan and know anything about my career, it’s probably because of one event, and possibly one shot, from the 2014 Women’s British Open (now the AIG Women’s Open) at Royal Birkdale in Southport, England. Even that week had its ups and downs. It started with a bad migraine and ended with sore cheeks from smiling so much – and clothes soaked in champagne.

I learned early that success comes not from focusing on what you don’t have, but from believing in what you do. As golfers, we all have our strengths and I learned to play from mine.

That was certainly the case at Royal Birkdale -- one of those courses requiring complete focus and commitment to every shot. Even though the layout was very challenging, I knew if I played quality golf on that course, I would be rewarded. After my week there, I loved learning that both the game’s shortest and longest ball strikers had been past champions on that course.

As my 3-wood to the 18th hole rolled and hit the pin that Sunday afternoon, I didn’t know what would happen behind me during that blustery final round. I didn’t know that my first LPGA win would come at a major championship. But standing over my last putt for eagle that week, something inside me said that making it would be a big deal.

And when it happened, so many things raced through my mind during that crowning moment. I had earned my spot on the LPGA Tour at age 29, after six years and three wins on the Epson Tour. Finally, at 31, I had won on the LPGA Tour.
Mo Martin of the United States poses with the trophy following her 1 shot victory at the end of the final round of the Ricoh Women's British Open at Royal Birkdale on July 13, 2014 in Southport, England. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

I’ll never forget talking to my mom on the phone after I won. Through her sobs, I heard her ask, “Do you believe me now?”

The week prior to leaving for England, I took most of the week off and spent it with my family. My mother, a strong but quiet person, sensed I was going through a down time. While sitting on a bench at the zoo in Naples, Fla., she grabbed my hand and looked me in the eyes and said, “Don’t you ever doubt yourself.”

Our family of five -- my parents, brother, sister and I -- lived in a 900-square-foot house in Altadena, Calif., next to a Jack in the Box fast-food restaurant. A memorable night for us was when my dad would buy one spicy grilled chicken sandwich and quarter it, so we each got one quarter. I remember thinking I was the luckiest kid in the world.

My brother was my first hero in life. We couldn’t really afford golf, but my dad recognized what a wonderful sport it was and wanted to get us both involved. He sawed down the mishmash of clubs he could find, including an old 2-iron. He then wrapped a cardboard tube with black electrical tape, finished it with a rope as a strap, and presented me with my first golf bag. My golf shoes were made by drilling holes and adding spikes to a small pair of street shoes. My career in the game was underway! To this day, that golf bag, those shoes, and learning this game with my brother are some of my most cherished memories.

Next up was learning to hit balls from a net in the driveway that my dad built using a PVC-pipe frame. We couldn’t afford golf lessons, so he taught me out of Ben Hogan’s classic book, “Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.” Using a Sharpie to mark my hand and remind me how to grip the club, I happily spent countless hours out there in the driveway with him.

Southern California Junior Golf tournaments cost about $20 at the time. When we didn’t have it, I later learned that an anonymous donor had paid my entry fees. Those entry fees changed a lot for me, and to this day I think about that anonymous donor. I want him/her to know that I am still committed to paying their kindness and generosity forward in full.

One year, I played in the Junior World Championship at Singing Hills Golf Resort in San Diego. The most reliable car we had at the time was my sister’s 1971 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. On the drive down to San Diego, the transmission belt snapped on the freeway. We walked to the nearest department store, bought a cheap pair of panty hose, and my dad showed me how to use them as a replacement for the belt. It worked well enough to get us to the golf course. Without enough money for a hotel room, we slept on the lounge chairs by the pool, and I got dressed in one of the bathrooms on the course. My dad also got up in the middle of the night and gathered stray balls off the range so I would have a basket of balls to practice with the next morning. At the time, it was what we had to do.

The Junior World Championship provided an all-expense-paid trip to Japan for the top-three finishers. The first time I finished in the top three, my dad took me to Japan, believing it would be the only time in my life I’d get to experience that country. More than any of the golf I played there, I remember bags of bread. My dad noticed that organizers were giving away bags filled with artisan breads, and he asked if we could have any that were left over. During our bus rides to the course each day, he had noticed many people sleeping on the streets near the train station. He woke me up at midnight the next day and told me to grab the bags. We walked around the streets that night and quietly placed bread next to the people as they slept so they’d have food when they woke up. He didn’t say much and just held my hand on the way back.

Years later, I walked on to the UCLA women’s golf team. Carrie Forsyth, still UCLA’s coach, had also walked on to the UCLA team years earlier, and seeing something in me, gave me the same opportunity. I gained about 20 pounds that first year of college, eating three square meals and working out regularly for the first time in my life. I also got my first matching set of clubs and, admittedly, cried the first time I played Bel Air Country Club -- overwhelmed with how beautiful it was.

My father had a heart attack and passed away during my fourth year of college. I moved back in with my mom and got a job at Annandale Country Club in Pasadena, Calif., where I would have practice privileges. If I opened the golf shop at 7 a.m., I would be practicing at 5:30 a.m. If I closed the shop, I’d practice until dark. A group of members there loaned me $40,000 to start my professional career. When I saw that lump sum on a check, I was so surprised and asked how anyone could have so much money in a bank account. One of the members who had contributed walked past me chipping in the rain one evening and said, “You’re going to win an Open one day.” It was a fine day, indeed, and many years later, I was able to pay back their gift to me.

Mo Martin celebrates winning the Epson Tour Eagle Classic at the Richmond Country Club on Aug. 14, 2011 in Richmond, Va with her grandfather Lincoln Martin. (Photo by Scott A. Miller)

Another key figure in my journey was my grandfather, Lincoln Martin. I didn’t really get to know him until my dad passed away. Grandpa had been both a geophysicist and an aeronautical engineer. He held six U.S. patents, and had survived one world war and contributed to the success of another. When I first visited his California ranch and stepped into his office, I was surprised to see a wall full of newspaper clippings about me. It was an overwhelming moment and the start of an untouchable bond.

Grandpa became a friendly and familiar face at Epson Tour and LPGA Tour events well past his 100th birthday. He would always wear a “Go Mo” button that matched my Aunt Mary’s, another supportive figure in my life, for whom I am forever grateful.

I knew my grandfather was with me as I held the Women’s British Open trophy. He had passed away at 102, four months before my win. Between interviews and walking the trophy through the clubhouse, I thought about all the people who’d had a hand in helping me hoist that trophy.

Back injuries have kept me off the course for more than a year now, but that absence from golf has reminded me of why I committed myself to the game. I still feel like I can inspire others, pay forward my own experience, and leave golf a little better than I found it.

Perhaps my best golf is yet to come. Perhaps there will be more championships, but regardless of what comes next, the real dream is the one I’ve been living all along this journey.

Returning from that trip to Japan many years ago, I had a chance encounter with now World Golf Hall of Famer Chi Chi Rodriguez in the airport. He took my trophy box, opened the lid and wrote with a Sharpie: “Never Quit.” 

I haven’t, Chi Chi. I hope to walk down fairways for many more years, but most of all, I hope to be able to look another young girl straight in the eyes some day and say, “Don’t you ever doubt yourself. Let me tell you why.”