TRIBULATIONS OF A STAR GONE WRONG

Features

Pablo Martin has a place in the record books that can never be taken away from him – he is the 1st amateur to win a European Tour event.

Pablo Martin has a place in the record books that can never be taken away from him – he is the 1st amateur to win a European Tour event.
When you consider that the likes of Tiger Woods, Sandy Lyle, Colin Montgomerie, Adam Scott, Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia, Jose Maria Olazabal and Justin Rose all tried and failed, it makes the achievement all the greater.
But that was a year ago – April 1, to be precise.
Now, as Martin prepares for his defence of the Portuguese Open on the same Oitavos course this week, you find him reflecting not just on a one week that changed his life, but also on the the slump that followed.
“I feel like when I get lost driving a car,” Martin said when discussing his swing problems in a recent interview with America’s Golfweek magazine.
“You know you make a wrong turn and should stop and ask someone where to go, but you drive and drive thinking you can get there and just get more lost.”
The destination seemed crystal clear for the 20-year-old when he beat France’s Raphael Jacquelin by one, having closed with a 68 after covering the last nine holes of his third round in just 29 strokes. He was heading for the very top.
Already a star of the American college scene, he had won the British boys title at the age of 15 (two years younger than Garcia when he won it) and even led a Tour event at 17.
Turning professional two months later Martin instantly qualified for the United States Open and, paired with Garcia and Olazabal for the opening two rounds, did better than both by finishing 30th.
However, the rest of the year was a big, big letdown.
In three more starts in America he did not make the halfway cut once, while in nine further starts in Europe there was not one top 20 finish.
Having not been able to take the first prize cheque of £141,157 in Portugal because of his amateur status – he could this time, of course – he finished 178th on the Order of Merit with under £65,000.
This season did not begin any better. After a closing 83 he was 22 over par and last of those who made the cut in the HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai, then missed four cuts in a row by wide margins.
At last, though, things appear on the up again. Back in America he was 21st in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and on returning to his home country he was 25th at last week’s Andalucian Open.
Again asked about what had gone wrong Martin said: “The coaching I’ve had in America is great, but I’ve realised that it’s too much technique and I was thinking too much on the course.
“That’s impossible. When I first learnt the game all I was told was ‘up, down, hit it’. I was just a kid having fun.
“I’ve made mistakes since then, but you always learn from them and I don’t regret anything I’ve done, the ups and downs have helped me to mature.
“I always try to take the positive out of everything. You can be negative or positive – my position is always to be positive.
“Now I feel more in control. I’m hitting it better and I have a very good attitude. I also understand my swing more.”
Martin comes from Malaga like Miguel Angel Jimenez and the Ryder Cup player has been something of a mentor to him.
“Before I went to the States Miguel Angel told me to be careful. He said I should try to get into my mind what they were teaching, but I shouldn’t be trying to do it when I was competing. That way you will go mad.
“I wanted to do really well obviously and I felt I could after winning, but the more I tried the worse it got.
“It’s a little hard to accept – maybe I put a little too much pressure on myself.”
Alexander Noren, the Swede who led with a round to play in Portugal last year, went to Oklahoma State University with Martin and states: “He will get through it because he is way too good a player.
“He just needs to know what he is doing and find what is right with him. He’ll find his way.”
The memories of last year’s win could well help in that process.
“It was unbelievable,” recalls Martin. “It really changed my life and opened so many doors.
“It is a great place. I am planning on spending some time down there after the tournament as they have a great beach and I like surfing, so I said to my caddie if I play well we will hang around there.”
Winning brought a two-year Tour exemption and saved him from going to the dreaded qualifying school. He has not cashed in as much as many thought he might, but at 21 there is plenty of time yet.
By Mark Garrod, PA Sport Golf Correspondent

Latest