Thompson, Martin take different paths to top
PITTSFORD, N.Y. – Mo Martin and Lexi Thompson represent what’s so beautiful about this game: There’s no clear path to victory.
Martin, a 5-foot-2 college-grad who spent six years on the Symetra Tour, won the Ricoh Women’s British Open in the most unlikely and incredible fashion. She chased a 3-wood onto the green from 237 yards at Royal Birkdale, clanking it off the flagstick to 7 feet. Martin’s eagle, her first of the season, set up a dramatic and popular victory for the 31-year-old known as “Mighty Mo.”
Meanwhile Thompson, the 19-year-old bomber who turned pro at 15, took the year’s first major in the desert with a flawless display of precision and power. Thompson quieted Michelle Wie in what was supposed to be an epic duel, winning her first major (and fourth LPGA title) by three strokes.
The last time Americans won the first three majors in a season was 1999, which is why the LPGA planned to have an early-week press conference with Thompson, Wie and Martin at the Wegmans LPGA Championship. The petite Martin would’ve been sandwiched in between two of the game’s giants, except that Wie had to withdraw with an injury to the index finger of her right hand.
So Martin sat on a padded bar stool next to Thompson on the interview platform, her feet barely reaching the shelf where they could rest.
No one expected Martin, who before Birkdale had only one top 10 in her career, to contend on that beast of a course – while Thompson’s victory at Mission Hills did nothing but fulfill expectations. The one-time prodigy was supposed to win majors.
“I always knew this was what I wanted to do,” Thompson said.
Life for Thompson hasn’t changed much since the big win. She already had more money than any 19-year-old needs. She’s long been a star in the game, fielding questions from the media since age 12.
“I don't think of myself any differently,” she said. “I just get announced differently on the first tee as a major champion, which is nice.”
Martin, however, tells a different story.
“It's been a whirlwind,” she said. “Things have changed. For one, I'm doing press conferences.”
The influx of cash enabled her to pay for a new roof on her grandpa’s ranch home. The UCLA grad can donate more to causes she’s passionate about and has a platform.
Martin threw out the first pitch at a Dodgers game and signs more autographs. Already popular among her peers, the rest of the world is getting to know this unique and well-rounded player.
It’s somewhat of a coincidence that growing up Martin got to meet Paul Runyan several times in California. Runyan, nicknamed “Little Poison” because of the way he took down stronger players with his short game, won two PGA Championships and had 29 PGA Tour victories.
“He was a very small man, and he had an extremely successful career at a time when the long hitters were dominating,” and Martin. “He had some epic matches where he just used his strength to his advantage and played the golf course.”
For Martin, one of the greatest joys of her success is being able to inspire and connect with young fans. In Toledo, she met a family with two petite young girls. The parents told Martin their daughters are often told, “You can’t play sports.”
“I actually taught the older girl the word ‘hogwash,’ ” said Martin. “I said, ‘Next time somebody tells you you're too small to do something, you message me.’ ”
Like Wie, Martin withdrew from last week’s event in Michigan with a hand injury. She sprained a ligament in her left thumb and said every shot is painful. Martin walked the front nine of Monroe Golf Club – a new tournament site for this event – on Monday and hit a few chips and putts. The fairways here are more generous than Locust Hills and, luckily for Mo, she rarely hits it offline anyway.
The last time Americans swept the majors was in 1992 when Dottie Pepper, Patty Sheehan, Betsy King and Sherri Steinhauer triumphed.
“That would be huge,” said Thompson.