Mojca Herman is Featured in Plus Fore Golf Magazine

Going into the 2015 Women’s British Open, Mo Martin Has History On Her Side

By Ted Johnson

The next time you see a person on the far edge of the driving range, hitting ball after ball after ball with a singular focus, take a long look. You just never know.

Flash back to 2011 and River Island Country Club in Springville, 65 miles north of Bakersfield, 10 miles east of Porterville, the heart of California’s citrus belt. River Island is known for the Tule River that runs through the course and, in the summer, triple-digit afternoon heat with hardly a wisp of air movement. Many days members could see a woman at the far end of the range toiling through buckets of range balls with a consistency that quickly confirmed she had high-end talent despite her – excuse the pun – low-end stature (she’s 5-foot-2).

Now fast-forward to July 2014 and the final round of the Women’s British Open. That same woman, black pants whipping against her thighs in the 25-mph wind, stood 237 yards from the hole for her second shot with a 3-wood on Royal Birkdale’s par-5 18th.

Her name is Mo Martin, and what she did was hit the golf shot of the year, a low, searing line drive that fought the wind, hit the ground running and rolled and rolled right onto the pin. BANG – the impact deflected the ball, leaving it six feet from the hole.

“I’ve heard from people by the green the ball was at cup speed,” said Martin, meaning had there not been a pin in the hole the ball would have ended up in the bottom for an albatross-2. “From the video, it looks like it was going a little faster. But I have no idea how it didn’t go in.”

Open links courses have shorter and thicker pins to hold them steady against the fierce winds. A thinner stick could have allowed the ball to drop.

“No woulda coulda shouldas, I made the putt,” Martin said of the eagle-3. “Either way it was more fun that I got up there and made the putt. And over the putt I knew it was going to be a big deal either way.”

Indeed it was – her first win on the LPGA Tour and a major, too. Just like that this girl from Pasadena, who practically grew up on Altadena Golf Course, whose high school [Alverno in Sierra Madre] had no golf team, had hit a shot that will go down as one of the most dramatic ever. It ranks right up there with the Tom Watson’s 1982 U.S. Open chip-in and Larry Mize’s sudden-death chip to win the 1987 Masters.

Peace, Then Success

Mo Martin will tee off in the 2015 Women’s British Open at Turnberry as the defending champion. And it would be easy to say that those hours at River Island led directly to achievement. But that’s a reach. Those days on the River Island range gave Mo Martin peace. Her beloved grandfather, Lincoln Martin, had a 108-acre citrus ranch in Porterville. She loved her grandfather, who was 99 in 2011 and yet managed to follow her on the Symetra Tour – the LPGA equivalent of the Web.com Tour – as often as he could. He was her greatest joy.

“River Island was the only way I could spend time with my grandfather,” Mo said. “When I was on the Symetra Tour, I talked with head pro Terry (Treece), and he said, ‘From pro to pro, you’re welcome her to come out at any time.’ I absolutely love that golf course, and I’m going to be forever grateful to the staff and members.

“Because of Terry and Fuzzy [Cochrane, the superintendent], because of that welcome, that facility made it easier for me,” she continued. “I got better practice time and I could go out in the afternoons and have the course to myself. If I didn’t have a course like that, I wouldn’t have been able to spend the time with my grandfather. I put so many hours of practice in at River Island.”

Martin had her best year in 2011, finishing third overall in Symetra Tour winnings to earn a spot on the LPGA Tour. On that circuit from 2012 through early 2014, “Mighty Mo”” was steady if unspectacular, a tie for third being her best. Then the inevitable happened: Lincoln Martin passed away in March 2014 at age 102. Four months later Mo Martin notched a spot for herself in golf’s lore.

“I have tried to make it not change my life,” she said about the effects of the win, which now mean more press interviews during tournaments and, yes, more opportunities for remuneration. “I manage my time differently,” she said. She also used part of the $475,000 prize for a new roof on her grandfather’s ranch home.

One thing a win in a major does is it lets Mo have more control of her future in the game. The win gave a five-year exemption for LPGA events, which is helpful and most likely needed because Martin’s left hand isn’t in good shape.

She has an injured MP joint in her thumb that – a product of the thousands of golf shots – fires painful jolts of electricity into her hand and arm. She credits Mojca Hermann, a hand therapy specialist in Torrance, for devising a splint that allows her to play. “I have the best hand therapist in the world,” Mo said.

Also, now that she’s 32, one has to consider the lifestyle of pro golfer. There are no “home games” in this sport. It’s all hotels, courses, restaurants and suitcases. Said Mo, “If I’m in one place for a week, I’m happy. If I’m home for a week, I’m happy. Two weeks, ecstatic.”

And after golf? “I wanted to be a marine biologist in college, but I couldn’t have that major while playing at UCLA,” added Martin, who graduated with a degree in psychology. “We traveled a lot. It was a demanding schedule. And I imagine that I could do a lot of things outside of golf.

“I don’t want anything principled in my life to change. Will it? I don’t know. I’ve heard people say it is one of the greatest shots in the history of the game. It’s pretty cool to think I hit it. But I want to contribute to the game and enjoy my career for the next few years, definitely. Ten more years? I don’t think I’m going to last that long. But you never know.”

We could have said back on the range at River Island.