Trainer turns corner, set for Puerto Rico Open defense
February 18, 2020
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
- Martin Trainer is the defending champion of the Puerto Rico Open. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Martin Trainer stood over his 5-foot, 4-inch bogey putt last Friday at Riviera Country Club’s 18th hole knowing this was likely a putt to extend his tournament to the weekend. Big deal, you might think. This happens every week on the PGA TOUR. Sure, it does. But for Trainer, this putt meant more than most.
The defending champion of this week’s Puerto Rico Open has had a rough time of it since hoisting his maiden PGA TOUR trophy a year ago. Prior to the knee-knocking putt at Riviera, he had missed the cut in 20 of his last 22 events on TOUR.
And those two other weeks? One was a WD after an opening-round 78 and the other, a 34th-place finish out of 34 players at the no-cut Sentry Tournament of Champions where he was eight shots worse than 33rd place and 32 shots behind winner Justin Thomas.
So when his putt on Friday at The Genesis Invitational hit the cup and dropped, you can forgive Trainer for being over the moon.
“Obviously I was super nervous, but at that point you just go up there and you hit it and you hope it goes in,” Trainer said. “It felt great when it did. And I was joking with my friends that we should have a party. I hadn't made a cut in so long.”
So the T47 next to his name after Sunday’s final round shook out might not look like much to some people, but to Trainer it was a welcome sight. And the perfect confidence booster as he heads to Puerto Rico to defend.
Thankfully Trainer has been able to keep his sense of humor despite his struggles – and in fact has ambitions to be a comedy writer one day. He knows every setback in life is another opportunity to learn and get better.
And he knows he’s not the first, nor will he be the last player, to have a slump and claw their way out of it. The PGA TOUR is littered with these stories – big names included. You can get an in-depth look at the likes of former FedExCup winner Henrik Stenson and Brendon Todd – who has two wins already this season – right here.
The key for Trainer was recognizing that the quick success he’d already had in his career was actually masking some significant issues. Sure he’d won twice in the 2018 Korn Ferry Tour season to make the jump, but around those wins he had just one other top 10. In his 21 starts he missed 12 cuts and was disqualified in another tournament.
He won on TOUR in just his ninth start of his rookie season. The prior eight starts had seen five missed cuts, a T60, T73 and T28.
“In reality I didn't really have a lot of success. I had like a two-month span last year where I played pretty well but other than that I didn't play well at all,” Trainer says. “Clearly inconsistency was a problem and my mechanics were teetering on the edge of barely playable. There were weeks where it was OK but most of the time it just was not good enough.”
For Trainer the low point came at the Barracuda Championship in late July when he says he lost almost complete control of his swing, particularly his irons. Huge misses to the right were the biggest culprit throughout his struggles.
“Thank goodness it was stableford because I would've shot like 110 but there were four or five holes where I just hit two balls into the woods and I was like, okay, I'll take my double bogey maximum (and move on),” he says.
“There'd be tournaments where it was very clear quickly that I almost had no chance to make the cut. I was hitting 7-irons 40 yards right of my target. You can't compete with that. Like it didn't even matter if I got everything up and down … I made too many bogeys. I was in too many bad spots and there's too much pressure on my short game. It's miserable. But you know that it's there somewhere and you just have to find it.”
A change of coach late last year has helped Trainer dig deep and make a fix. Jeff Smith, who works with other TOUR players such as Scott Piercy and Patrick Rodgers immediately noticed Trainer was doing a move in his downswing where he would tilt back and under and it would open the face of his club. So they worked on doing the opposite move.
“It took a while to A) change my setup which would put me in a better position and then B), once I was in that position to retrain myself to swing that way and to get rid of the fault,” Trainer says.
“It's been a long 10 months of struggling, but I'm just happy to be hitting the ball straight again. Even on Thursday I was on my sixth hole of the tournament and was already two over par but I was ecstatic because I was actually achieving the things that I've been working on.
“I was just thrilled that I could actually hit a ball that started to the left and faded, which I hadn't been able to do it in months. So that kind of a thing, was a victory in and of itself. Now that I'm hitting the right shots and missing in a narrower window I have a chance.”