By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
HERSHEY, Pa. – On paper, the 5-under 67 that Rhode Island’s Jeff Martin fired on Hershey Country Club’s West Course in the first round of the PGA Professional National Championship seems like a nice, solid round of golf.
And it was. After all, it was good enough to have the 37-year-old PGA Assistant Professional from Point Judith Country Club just one shot off of the first-round lead.
What might catch people off guard, however, is the fact that Martin got all of his scoring done on three consecutive holes. That’s right -- three holes.
“I hit the ball great all day,” said Martin, who has two top-10 finishes in six previous PPNC appearances. “I just couldn’t get my putter going at all. I was pulling putts, pushing putts and it was getting frustrating out there. I hit it a lot better than I played. The ball was just afraid of the dark. It was tough to tell myself to just stay patient and let it happen.”
Eventually, it happened for Martin.
After starting the round with 12 consecutive pars, Martin exploded with an eagle on No. 13, a birdie on No. 14 and another eagle on No. 15. Then, three pars to close out the 67.
Anytime a player makes just one eagle, it’s a pleasant bonus. Two in a round don’t come along often. And eagles like the one he made at No. 13 come along, well, pretty much never.
“That one was pretty funny,” Martin grinned, knowing he stole one. “I hit a 3-wood just over the green in two. I wasn’t getting many breaks all day and, as luck would have it, the ball nestled up against the collar. The only play I had was to toe my putter in -- basically hold it sideways and hit it with the end of the toe -- so that’s what I did. The next thing you know, it bangs in from about 70 feet. Just total luck.”
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. In all fairness, though, Martin was real good over the next two holes.
“I followed that up with a birdie on No. 14 and then made another eagle on No. 15,” he said. “I hit a 5-iron in there to about 12 feet and made the putt. Then I just made a few good pars coming in.”
Sunday’s 67 was Martin’s best score in 21 PPNC rounds, just his second in the 60s and one better than the 68 he shot in the second round of the 2008 PPNC at Reynolds Plantation, which also led to his best finish in the tournament -- a tie for 10th.
At the end of the day, Martin was more than happy to have a low score in the books at the more vulnerable, birdie-friendly West Course.
“Playing the West Course, especially, you know you’re going to have a lot of chances for birdie,” he said. “The greens are really sloped and they break a ton, so if you get yourself on the wrong side of the hole, you might have 12 feet, but you still can’t get really aggressive with it. You’ve got to stay patient out there.”
If Martin looks especially comfortable at Hershey Country Club this week, it’s for good reason.
“These courses are very similar to what I play on at home in Rhode Island,” he said. “The West Course, in particular, is very, very similar to what we’re used to playing in New England. And the East Course is fantastic. It feels like I’m right at home, which is nice.”