DAN REARDON: Mo
(KMOX) - Every once in a while, you run into a story in sports that just makes you feel good. You want other people to hear the story as well. This past weekend we had just that kind of story unfold but no one will ever hear it.
This weekend we had Lebron going home, Melo staying in the Big Apple, “Super” Mario ending two decades of frustration for Germany, the All Star game on the horizon, Tiger and Phil getting ready to tee it up at Royal Liverpool and Mo Martin winning at Birkdale.
Mo who? Exactly. You probably didn’t get much of her on ESPN but her story this week is a better fit for the Hallmark Channel.
Melissa “Mo” Martin is field filler. At 31, she has been playing out of sight professionally for eight years. Her first year as a professional on the LPGA’s developmental tour she earned just over $9000. In five years in small towns with no galleries and questionable courses she won three times and totaled a little over $160,000. The diminutive (5’2”) UCLA walk-on crashed the big time of the LPGA Tour in 2012.
Martin is one of those players who doesn’t tailor her schedule to be fresh for the big ones. If the LPGA put up gallery ropes, Martin shows up to walk inside them. In 2014 she has already played in 17 events.
When Martin opened up the Women’s British Open with rounds of 69-69 for the 36 hole lead it was the kind of story you knew wouldn’t last. Saturday, it didn’t, as she shot a “Mo” predictable 77. Someone named “Mo” doesn’t win an LPGA major.
But she did. On the final day, playing seven groups ahead of the leaders, little Mo turned her Tin Cup moment into a silver chalice and she did it in style. On a day when the field was devoured by the winds at Royal Birkdale she cautiously navigated her way through 17 holes at an unspectacular +2. I suspect she never appeared on the telecast to that point.
At the par 5 18,th she played her usual cut down the left side of the fairway leaving a go for broke three wood into the green. She wasn’t thinking eagle. Why would she? In more than sixty LPGA events she had made eagle only four times, none in 2014. People named Mo, who average 231 off the tee, don’t think about eagling the 72 hole of a major championship. But they can wish and hope when the ball is in the air.
“When it was in the air, I said, “Sit,” and then I said, “Stop,” and then when it was going towards the hole, I said, “Okay, I don’t have anything more to say to that ball.” That perfectly executed three wood hit the flagstick and dropped six feet from the hole. Martin wasn’t looking at the leaderboard as she faced the six-footer. She was trying to make her first eagle of the year. And she did.
Then the wait began – an hour wait. Would her one under total hold up with women’s golf’s finest playing in behind her? She didn’t want to look. She didn’t want to know. “No, I didn’t want to know what was happening. I was fully prepared to go into a playoff,” she said afterward. “ I thought maybe I wouldn’t even have that opportunity. But definitely didn’t expect to be the outright champion here. I didn’t want real time updates. I just wanted to get prepared for possibly playing more golf.” Mo Martin became a major champion on the practice range at Royal Birkdale when her caddie let her know the outcome. But that is only part of the story. There’s “Mo.”
What does a player do when they are toiling for five years on the LPGA developmental tour? What keeps them out there? “I guess, yeah, I had‑‑ three things were my criteria to keep playing: I thought if I still woke up and I was happy in the morning; if I was still contributing to the women’s game and growing it; and three, if I was paying my own bills. So that was my criteria. Those are my three things. So as long as I was accomplishing those, then I was going to keep playing.”
Martin is a throwback, even to her origins in the game. Old timers came up through the caddie ranks. Today’s players come up through national junior tours. Mo came up through her driveway. “We didn’t have a lot of money growing up. My dad taught me from Hogan’s “Five Lessons,” and he built a cage in our driveway. So we couldn’t afford lessons.” And there’s even “Mo.”
Martin’s father died when she was nineteen and it was time for her to add a new family member to her life. Because her father had been estranged from his own, Martin really knew little of her grandfather, Lincoln. “I knew my grandpa was somebody I really wanted to get to know. So I made a trip up to his ranch and I walked into his office and there were newspaper articles and pictures. I started crying, I was overwhelmed, because I didn’t know he was that involved in my life. Like he was just a silent follower, but he was caring and loving me all the time.”
The grandfather, who cheered in the shadows, stepped into her life and became a minor celebrity. He was her one man ‘army’ as her golf career advanced. At 101 years of age Lincoln got an ovation as he rode in his spectator cart over the Dinah Bridge at Kraft Nabisco a year ago. He didn’t make it to the major this year, passing away at 102. But he had completed his job. “Yeah, he changed my life. He made everything so much brighter and better. I miss him but I’m so grateful that I had the time I had with him. I’m incredibly blessed.” And there is one “Mo” thing.
Martin’s payday on Sunday nearly matched what she had earned in her professional career. But don’t expect money to change Mo Martin because it’s already earmarked for a necessary cause. Lincoln Martin had a small ranch in California and now his heirs will have it too. “His ranch is still there, and this win will definitely help keep it in the family, which has been absolutely‑‑ it’s been what I wanted to happen. We weren’t quite sure we were going to be able to keep the ranch, but it’s a very special place for me. It kind of my sanctuary, and it’s nice to have all the memories that I have with grandpa, and it’s an incredible place. It’s in Porterville, California, sleepy town.
My Aunt Mary did a tremendous thing, and she made the big effort, I think it’s almost finalized, to keep it in the family. But I will definitely be able to help keep it now; and we need a new roof and things like that.”
There isn’t any “Mo.”
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