Golf

’Finisher’ Ben Martin is nowhere near done

Ben Martin tees off on No. 3 during the final round of the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing on Sunday at Harbour Town Golf Links in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island S.C.
Ben Martin tees off on No. 3 during the final round of the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing on Sunday at Harbour Town Golf Links in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island S.C. Jay Karr

One word — “finish” — defines Ben Martin’s mindset in golf, and putting that philosophy into practice has sent his stock soaring.

“I think about that all the time,” he says. “Finish the hole, finish the round, finish the tournament. If I’m working out and get tired and feel like quitting, I focus on finishing.”

He “finished” the 2013-14 PGA Tour season well enough to bank almost $1.5 million and record three top-three finishes in 26 starts, and the best is yet to come. He heads into this week’s Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, the first 2015 event of the wrap-around season, with his first victory in golf’s major league secured.

“I’m still hungry,” Martin said before leaving Saturday for Hawaii, “and I want to (win) again.”

His performance chart suggests he will. The former Clemson star won his first pro start, a mini-tour event, qualified for the PGA Tour his first year out of school, showed his possibilities on the Web.com Tour in 2013 and blossomed last year.

Would all this be possible without his “finish” mantra?

His 2012 season on the Web.com circuit had mostly been a bust. Remember, though, his thirst to “finish.” In this case, he grabbed third in the last regular-season event and earned enough to qualify for the Tour Championship. That performance earned him exempt status in 2013, and he won twice to qualify for the PGA Tour again, and this time he capitalized.

“If not for that (finish), it would have been back to qualifying school, and who knows what might have happened,” he said. “Everybody has instances like that throughout their careers, and I came through and took the next step.”

Martin’s biggest step came in October in Las Vegas at the 2014-15 Tour’s second tournament. A third-round 62 vaulted him into first place, the first time he took a PGA Tour event lead into Sunday.

Nervous?

Naturally.

But excited, too.

“If you grow up playing golf, you dream of moments like that,” he said.

Martin led by four shots after 10 holes, but he bogeyed the 11th and Kevin Streelman ripped off five birdies over a six-hole stretch to ease in front. Martin answered with a birdie on the drivable par-4 15th, then rolled home a 46-foot eagle putt on 16. He birdied the 18th from 20 feet, putting the “finishing” touches on a two-shot win by playing the final four holes four under par.

“You think you’re prepared to win, but until you do it the first time, you don’t really know,” said Martin, a Greenwood native who lives in Greenville. “(Winning) is the next step, and now that I’ve done that, I expect to be more comfortable — but not complacent — in the future.”

The win gives him exempt status through the 2016-17 PGA Tour season and berths in the Masters, PGA and Players Championship this year, and his goal for this year centers on qualifying for the Tour Championship, season-ending tourney limited to the top 30 in the FedEx standings.

“Things like the Masters will be different this year,” Martin said. “The last time (2010, after his runner-up finish in the U.S. Amateur), I just soaked in the experience. Now, I will be there to compete with (the game’s top players). This will be my fifth pro season, and I feel like I’ve improved every year.”

If he keeps “finishing,” his stock in the pro golf world will continue to soar.

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