This time around, Ben Martin knows his way around the PGA TOUR ropes. Just as significantly, he understands himself a little better.
What the South Carolina native learned is that he’s one of those less-is-more guys.
Not that Martin has become allergic to the practice facility since his last stint, when he made the TOUR straight out of college. But if there’s one lesson he took away from his 2011 travails, it’s that overpreparation is an easy trap.
“Guys have success in different ways,” said Martin, back on the big stage this week after two years sharpening his game on the Web.com Tour. “Everybody plays the game a little different, practices a little different. I think that’s what I really figured out the last couple of years.”
For Martin, less complication is better. He’s also disciplined himself to ignore leaderboards, keeping his head down until he needs to know where he stands on Sunday. “I try to focus very little on my results,” he said.
At some point, though, you have to hold your score up against the others. And for the second half of the Web.com Tour season, Martin turned in perhaps the most prolonged run of excellence on the circuit.
Martin placed sixth or better in seven of his final 11 starts, dating back to the Rex Hospital Open in mid-June. Two resulted in wins, at the United Leasing Open in Indiana and Mylan Classic outside Pittsburgh.
During a six-event stretch that culminated in his Mylan Classic victory, Martin posted scores of 67 or better in 18 of his 24 rounds. Just three failed to break 70. Aggregate score over the course of the run: 96-under par.
And though John Peterson took top honors at the Web.com Tour Finals, Martin easily secured a high card with ties for third in Charlotte and fourth in Columbus.
“It’s the most consistent golf I’ve ever played,” said the former Clemson All-American. “Coach [Larry] would say great golf is consistentl good golf, and that’s really what I’m doing now.”
For the season, Martin led the tour’s all-around ranking and his eight top-10 finishes trailed only Michael Putnam. He also led the tour with 358 birdies, ranked No.2 in scoring average and ballstriking and was top-5 in eight other categories.
“I’m confident with my game,” he said, “and I’m glad we’re rolling right into the new schedule rather than waiting until January.”
There’s never been any question about Martin’s game. He was runner-up to Byeong-Hun An at the 2009 U.S. Amateur and won his first minitour event after turning professional. Months later, he zipped through PGA TOUR qualifying on his first try.
Jumping from college to the TOUR, though, was “a bit of a culture shock.”
“It was a lot more golf than I’d ever played,” said Martin, whose 25 starts featured just one top-10 finish. “Just trying to learn how to travel, learn how to spend my time on and off the course – it’s not easy.”
As with many young players, learning to balance a schedule – especially practice sessions – was one of his biggest adjustments.
“I’m not a guy who stands out there and beats a lot of balls,” Martin said. “Then you get to the big tour and see guys practicing all the time and you think, ‘Maybe I need to do that, too.’ ”
By the time he finished the season with a tie for 20th at Disney, Martin was out of gas. Returning to the second stage of Q-School, he missed the cut.
"I was almost happy that I didn’t have to go to finals,” he said. “I was looking forward to having two months off. There was definitely a little burnout after that first year."
Martin’s first year on the Web.com Tour left him 54th in earnings. It also was when Martin stopped looking at leaderboards – to the point he deleted the PGATOUR.COM application from his cellphone.
“I was on the cut line with three holes to play, with that added bit of pressure,” he recalled. “I ended up four-putting on 17 and missed the cut by two or three.
“I just kind of figured out it doesn’t help me to know where everybody else is. If I do what I do, I’ll just see where I stack up at the end.”
A second Web.com Tour season finally allowed Martin to play courses he already was familiar with. With that pressure off, he could scale back his preparations.
At most stops, he played just nine holes on Tuesdays and the pro-am round on Wednesdays. He also cut back on his range time, aiming for more efficient sessions.
“I’ve worked for him for a year now,” caddie Derrick Redd said, “and I want to say we've hit maybe 50 balls in a year after a round. That’s just his process, and it seems to be working. He’s sticking with it.”
Hey, who wouldn’t? And now Martin will take his new approach back to the big stage, where he’ll have to spend a little time getting reacquainted with PGA TOUR venues – though far less than before.
“You’ve got guys like Davis Love III, who’s seen a course maybe 20 or 25 times,” Martin said. “He doesn’t even need a practice round. He can just show up on Thursday morning and know the track. So you do feel a bit behind the 8-ball if it’s your rookie year.”
Those years are behind him now. Armed with his own game plan, Martin has reason to see even brighter days ahead.
“If I do the things I’m supposed to do,” he said, “I think I’ll be able to have success out here.”