2006: Martinez, Mackenzie pairing epitomizes Q-School’s ups and downs

By Beth Ann Baldry

Daytona Beach, Fla.

Maru Martinez fist-pumped her way to the finish line Dec. 3 at the final stage of LPGA Q-School. She’d somehow stumbled into “the zone.” After opening the last round with a pair of bogeys, Martinez rattled off seven birdies over the next 16 holes to shoot 68 and finish third.

Meanwhile, Paige Mackenzie – who was paired with Martinez – hobbled into the scoring tent at LPGA International’s Legends Course after a closing 77. When yet another par putt slid past the cup on the 72nd hole, Mackenzie put on one of those I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening smiles. It was her third three-putt over the last four holes and her fifth of the day.

Luckily for Mackenzie, she’d built enough of a cushion over the four previous rounds to survive a meltdown. The Washington grad tied for 12th with Aram Cho, Erica Blasberg and Ashley Hoagland to nab one of the final four cards for the 2007 season. Fifteen players earned exempt status for next year, the lowest number since 2000, when 14 cards were handed out.

“I’m relieved I didn’t hang myself because it felt like it,” said a teary-eyed Mackenzie. “I’m standing over (the ball) and I feel good about it and then I take it back and it’s ‘Oh God . . .’ ”

A day to remember. A day to forget. Q-School does funny things to people.

Korea’s Hye Jung Choi closed with a 5-under 67 to vault into the top spot with amateur compatriot In-Kyung Kim at 13-under 347.

Four Koreans earned their cards for 2007, including Ji-Young Oh, who entered the week as Golfweek’s top-ranked junior. The 18-year-old finished strong with rounds of 68-71 to place ninth. The former Korean national team captain came to the U.S. in January to attend the David Leadbetter Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Oh played in six Future Collegians World Tour events and won all six before returning to Korea. Both Oh and Kim turned professional following the round.

Kim, 18, made it look easy with rounds of 67-73-68-66-73. The 2005 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion never had plans to attend college in the United States and spent most of the year practicing, reading books and watching MTV to improve her English.

“I tried reading ‘Harry Potter,’ ” said Kim.

“It was like dictionary, read, dictionary, read. I just quit.”

Outside of qualifying events, Kim played in only three tournaments this year: the U.S. Women’s Open, U.S. Women’s Amateur and AJGA Canon Cup.

Yet she hardly looked rusty. Two weeks ago, Kim won the Futures Tour Q-School and continued to add to her card collection in Daytona.

“The first two rounds I was kind of tight,” said Kim, “but after that I just rock.”

Martinez also took time off from tournament play after finishing her senior year at Auburn last spring and began working with Annika Sorenstam’s mental guru, Pia Nilsson. The Venezuelan moved to Orlando over the summer and at the recommendation of Nilsson, started training with Kai Fusser, the man responsible for transforming Sorenstam’s physique.

Standing a smidge over 5 feet tall, Martinez knew she needed some work to survive in the big leagues. Since starting with Fusser in August, she’s added 25 yards to her driver, and now averages about 250 off the tee. She also began working with Sorenstam’s longtime instructor, Henri Reis, after the first stage of LPGA Q-School.

At the behest of Reis, Sorenstam’s caddie, Terry McNamara, agreed to return to Q-School to help the promising young pupil. With Sorenstam’s team on her side, Martinez loomed large during Sunday’s final round.

In one week’s work, McNamara impressed upon his player the importance of routine and course management. Martinez learned how to see the grain on putting surfaces and decipher

its effects. By the end of the week the pair were seeing eye to eye on the Legends’ greens.

“She showed a lot of poise,” said McNamara. “I was very impressed.”

Martinez knows the week could’ve gone much differently had it not been for her decorated caddie. For McNamara, it was a bit of a vacation.

Q-School wasn’t a bubbling cauldron of pressure, but rather a breath of fresh air.

“It actually was very enjoyable because with Annika the expectations are so high all the time,” said McNamara. “There’s always this pressure of winning. . . . It helps me really appreciate what she goes through.”

For the Mackenzie family, it was Q-School madness from coast to coast. With Paige’s brother Brock in the final stage of PGA Tour Q-School in California, there was a double dose of emotion for parents Hugh and Caren.

Paige spent the week at the home of LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens, while her parents were supporting Brock. She HAD met the commissioner earlier in the year at the U.S. Women’s Open, and Bivens offered her a spare room.

The Commish walked a few holes with Mackenzie over the weekend and spoke highly of her houseguest. She couldn’t help but notice how close Mackenzie was to her brother, speaking to him at length every night after their rounds.

“She’s been playing so well and is in a great state of mind. Fortunately we don’t compete against each other,” said Brock Mackenzie. “She’s so confident in her game, a lot more confident than me.”

That confidence took a hit Sunday when things starting going south with her putter. It’s the not first time this has happened. Two years ago at Cherry Hills, Mackenzie racked up six three-putts, a four-putt and a five-putt over four rounds and still tied for 13th at the Women’s Open.

It’s something she’ll have to work on to find success at the next level. But there’s plenty of time.

Brock, who competed in the final stage of Tour School for the first time at La Quinta, played at the University of Washington alongside his kid sister. When he walked off the 18th green Sunday after a 2-under 70, tied for 53rd after five rounds, the first thing he did was ask how Paige made out practically a world away.

Good enough, Brock. Good enough.

– Rex Hoggard contributed

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