Stories Of Americans Passionately At Play

"Sport, at its best, at its most human, is able to inspire an innocence and joy that is unique to each of us."
~ Richard Corman ~

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Ghosts of Game Times Past

Is The Sports World Trying To Tell Me Something?

In April of 2010, author Tim Forbes embarked on a one-year “sports walkabout” that took him across the country to 100 sporting events involving 50 completely different sports. Why? Well, it’s complicated. His journey and ultimate discoveries about the true value of sports were published in the book “It’s Game Time Somewhere” (Bascom Hill Publishing, 2013).

ghost_with_bagIt’s getting closer to Halloween, so maybe it’s only natural that every time I turn around I see ghosts.

Not like my friend here, visiting from ClipartPal. And certainly not like translucent-dead-people-floating-around-while-moaning-and-rattling-chains kinds of ghosts. It’s been more like visions from previous times popping up at random times. But “ghosts” sounds much more compelling, so I’m going with that.

That “times past” I refer to is the year-long sports walkabout that I once took, which brought me to 100 events that showcased 50 different sports. And the ghosts that keep appearing all share the same thing. I first saw them in person in very humble sports surroundings…and now they are apparitions that materialize on my television screen.

Like this, for example…

A few Saturday evenings ago, I found myself setting both my alarm and my coffee pot to go off at 6:00 the next morning. On purpose. See, I didn’t want to miss a minute of TV coverage of the final round of the Women’s British Open. And my sacrifice of shuteye did indeed reward me with the kind of sports story that by all rights should get saturation coverage…but won’t.

As I sat watching a half a world away, the wind off of the Irish Sea was playing havoc with the golf being played at Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport, England. Flagsticks were bending nearly parallel to the ground, and golf balls that had been lying stationary on the green suddenly took to wandering around of their own volition. In short, it was breezy.

One after another, the tournament’s leaders succumbed in one way or another to the elements. A par on most holes became the equivalent of a birdie, and a birdie became…well, it just didn’t happen. Frustration was etched on every player’s face. Except one.

Mo Martin, the world’s 99th ranked woman golfer, looked unfazed. Downright serene, in fact, as she played one solid hole after another. And seemingly each time she finished fishing yet another par putt out of a cup, she looked up to see another highly-regarded competitor’s name drift down the leaderboard and come to rest below her own. If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…

By the time Martin stood on the par-five 18th tee, it wasn’t outside the realm of possibilities that, should those still on the course behind her continue to struggle, she could position herself to get into a playoff. After all, she’d birdied this final hole in two of three previous rounds that week. She striped her drive down the middle, and when she reached her ball on the fairway, well, there really wasn’t any reason not to go for the green in two, despite a diminutive status that the LPGA is likely generous in publishing as 5’ 2”. So she pulled out a three-wood and took aim.

After traveling about 230 yards on a direct line, the ball hit the base of the flagstick, eventually coming to rest five feet away from the hole. A few moments later, Martin calmly stroked the ball into the center of the cup for the first eagle of her LPGA season. On the 72nd hole of a Major tournament. Under conditions that might make Weather Channel storm chaser Jim Cantore say, “Uh, guys, maybe we should stay inside for this one.”

MoMartin~GolfWorldCover

Stories like this are almost legally obligated to end happily, and indeed, when nobody else could catch Martin’s one-under-par score, she was informed while keeping loose on the driving range that she had secured her first-ever LPGA tour win. Her reaction was priceless—but that was just the beginning of the heart-warming.

Unaccustomed to the limelight as she was, it would’ve been understandable if, in the impromptu on-course interviews that followed, she’d stammered out some sports clichés consisting mostly of amazing’s and awesome’s. Instead, the 31-year-old pro extemporaneously spoke from the heart with warmth, intellect, wit, and perspective. She managed to pull off “giddy” and “dignified” simultaneously. And when the audio was thrown back to the announcers, someone summed up the environment perfectly: “Full disclosure—there have been tears in the broadcast booth.”

Here’s the thing. None of this surprised me in the least. Well, OK, the whole ball-hitting-flagstick-and-short-eagle-putt did raise my eyebrows to my hairline, but the rest…pretty much as I would’ve expected. See, I know Mo Martin. She came out of UCLA and onto the LPGA’s Futures Tour while I was employed by the latter. And over the course of the next few years, I had the pleasure of working with her on numerous promotional events.

One of my favorite memories of those days was from a chilly, rainy evening in Concord, New Hampshire. Mo had agreed to help with a uniquely-formatted clinic for that week’s tournament sponsors, and when I caught up to her out on the course, she was standing greenside, watching in bemusement as four men cavorted before her. I could hear the giggling from 100 yards away as I eased my golf cart up behind her group.

“What’s going on?” I sidled up and asked Mo in a whisper.

“Not much,” she answered with a conspiratorial grin. “I just taught them how to hit a flop shot, and now that they know they can actually do it…well, they’re like little kids at Christmas.”

And with that, she flicked away the beads of rain from where they’d gathered on the bill of her cap and rounded up her charges to head for the next instructional station. As they trooped off, it was readily apparent that each of these happy sponsors was oblivious to the damp gray mist that enshrouded them. Mo Martin has that kind of effect on people.

That’s why, a couple of years later, when I played in a Futures Tour pro-am as one of the 100 events on my IGTS itinerary, I was delighted to be paired with Mo. She was a treat to be with on that occasion, and now, years later and an ocean removed, Mo delighted me once again, with an out-of-nowhere reminder of the kinds of sports vignettes that I’ve been blessed to have witnessed.

Little did I know that this would be just the beginning.

March 31, 2008; Daytona Beach, Florida: Phto shoot of the Duramed Futures Tour Performance Team at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Florida. © 2008 Scott A. Miller

A little Mo Martin bunker magic from her Futures Tour days

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