How Mo Martin upset the odds to win at Royal Birkdale
Mo Martin hadn’t made an eagle all year, which was not overly surprising as the 5”2 Californian was one of the shortest hitters on tour. But she was also the straightest and Birkdale was a course that had to be played from the fairway.
In previous Majors her best effort had been 29th at that year’s Kraft Nabisco. Her two previous visits to the Women’s British Open resulted in a missed cut and a 57th. All around her on the leaderboard were Major champions, some of them multiple winners.
But then it happened. From 240 yards Martin produced the shot of the year, a 3-wood so precise that it actually hit the flag. After 63 previous attempts on the LPGA Tour Martin had come out on top. She was also a Major champion.
I fell in love with Royal Birkdale after the first practice round. The first two holes are pretty intimidating and I only hit the 1st fairway once in the tournament. That is a long, demanding hole. They should give a lot of credit to the LGU for how they set it up. They kept the trouble in play for every single player and it didn’t favour anyone in particular.
The new putter
My dad put a long putter in my hand at six. When it was clear that the rules were going to change I started to look at changing to a short one. I picked up a ‘normal’ putter from the Callaway rep at St Andrews in 2013 and my coach Ian Triggs watched me roll a few and I holed the first three, and he started laughing. At first I was a bit self-conscious and asked why. He said ‘keep putting’ and after a bit he said my stroke was better with the short one and that whenever I wanted to make the transition I had his blessing. I changed at the end of the year and had 26 putts on my first round.
The halfway leader
I was three clear after two rounds and I slept pretty well on the Friday night. I had never been in that position before so I drew on my experience from the Symetra Tour where I had led. Having a lead anywhere is having a lead. Clearly there is more at stake but it is the same feeling, but to a different degree.
On the Saturday I had a camera behind me on every shot. That was a first: I have had it here and there with a playing partner or when I have played well but never for a whole round. Your entire career is spent trying to clear space behind you and now you have got someone behind you all the time. My focus was a bit off to begin with and I was nervous but I was nervous the entire week.
On the Sunday I checked out of my apartment in Birkdale and realised when I was packing the car that it was pretty windy.
To give you a little bit of background about the eagle. I was having breakfast and they were setting up the hole at the 18th and I remember seeing this really accessible pin and thinking that’s tasty – and they were talking about the prospect of a closing eagle. The wind was blowing strongly left to right and the ball was slightly below my feet. So I played a draw and aimed well left of the green at the scoring booth. What I really like to do is to work it against the wind and I had been doing that all day so I was confident and really committed to it. I hit it the way I intended but there were so many other factors.
I saw it hit the pin and even heard it. I don’t know what they make the pins out of but you could hear it clearly. The outcome
I couldn’t see the front of the green because of that fairway bunker so I ran up about 20 yards to see the shot. I was trying to talk pretty to it, first I said ‘sit’, then ‘go’ and then I didn’t know what else to say.
I saw it hit the pin and even heard it. I don’t know what they make the pins out of but you could hear it clearly. Some shots look further or closer away but because it was pin high I knew it was about five feet away. I enjoyed my walk up there, the galleries are really proper fans. It’s not like home, there isn’t any hollering but it was just great.
I knew the putt was going to be a big deal. Best case, I thought, would be a play-off. I had the best players in the world behind me and it was chilly so, if there was a play-off, I knew they would have the advantage of being warm so I had to make sure I was as ready as I could be.
Getting stressed out about what people were doing wasn’t going to help me so I took 10 minutes in the locker room. And then I went through an abbreviated warm-up routine.
I told my caddy I didn’t want to know any scores. It helped that the range was so far away and I couldn’t hear anything. There were two camera crews, one range attendant and my caddy, Kyle.
What I wanted to know is how much time we had. Kyle started walking up to me and said ‘you did it’. I said ‘did what?’ He’s still processing it all and looking at me with wide eyes, and he repeated ‘you did it’ and I still didn’t know what he meant. Then he got right up to me and said ‘you’ve won!’
The caddy by my side
Finding a caddy to complement one another is a difficult thing to do. I had nine different caddies before. I liken it to a marriage – every round is emotional and there is a lot at stake.
Kyle stays very steady, I don’t go up and down a lot but if I had a caddy who did I might do and he is the same if we are missing the cut or in contention. He was a big, big part of the win.
On the Saturday he talked me into hitting a driver and I hit it where we wanted and it finished in the rough. Then I hit a shot which finished in a fairway bunker and I thought he had given me a bad yardage. We went in and talked about it, he had looked at the number about six times and the 9 iron went about 180 yards so it was just a freak thing but we talked it out.
Afterwards I drove to Manchester airport, checked in, ate a burger in the hotel and went to sleep. I had an early start to get to Ohio, I stayed with friends and they had balloons and signs up. Then I went back to Los Angeles and there was a greeting committee waiting for me, which was super embarrassing and super nice.
I am announced as the Women’s British Open champion on the 1st tee every time I tee it up. It is an awesome reminder and people come up to me and talk about the shot pretty much every day.