A Q and A With 2010 Masters Invitee Ben Martin
Ben Martin grew up an hour from Augusta, Ga., in Greenwood, S.C., and will be fulfilling a childhood dream by competing in the 2010 Masters, thanks to his runner-up finish to Byeong-Hun An of Korea in the 2009 U.S. Amateur at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla. The fifth-year senior at Clemson University, one of six amateurs in the 2010 field, has been a regular Masters spectator since the mid-1990s, but now he’ll be inside the ropes as a competitor. Martin, 22, has already made several trips to Augusta National Golf Club for practice rounds in preparation for the Masters. He recently chatted with USGA communications staff writer David Shefter about those preparations and his thoughts going into the year’s first major championship:
How many visits have you made to Augusta?
Clemson senior Ben Martin earned his 2010 Masters invitation by finishing as the runner-up at last year's U.S. Amateur. (John Mummert/USGA)
I have made it down about seven or eight times.
Had you played the course before earning the invitation to play in the 2010 Masters?
Martin: I had gone down once before with the [Clemson team], but that was it. We went down my sophomore year, so that was three years ago … [but] the greens weren’t very fast. It played long.
Did you see that Augusta National received some snowfall this year?
Martin: No, I didn’t. We got about four inches [at Clemson] and we’re not very far from there. If it snows, it’s usually gone the next day around here.
What kind of shape is the golf course in?
Martin: It’s always perfect. It’s getting more and more like the tournament. Every time I go, it gets a little firmer and a little faster. They are starting to put up all the scoreboards and all the stands and everything. They’re getting ready.
How is your mindset as the days approach for this big moment?
Martin: It’s going to be a little different. I have been going to the tournament since I was seven or eight years old. I may have missed one or two in there. Inside the ropes is going to be a completely different experience. I have been kind of busy at school so I haven’t had a whole lot of time to think about it. As we get closer and closer, I’ll be thinking about that first tee shot on Thursday. My hometown is not that far away from Augusta, so I’m sure I’ll have a crowd following me. I am just looking forward to seeing a whole lot of people I know and having a few good rounds.
Is it difficult to sleep knowing what lies ahead?
Martin: Not yet. I’m sure once I get down there and the night before the first round it will be. I think it’s huge that I qualified for the U.S. Open last year [at Bethpage] because that was my first experience being around crowds that big. So actually it will make it a little easier having been around that kind of similar situation.
What did you learn playing Bethpage?
Martin: How good those guys are. That’s a tough course and you have to be on top of your game pretty much every shot, every hole for four rounds. One slipup can cost you, so it takes a lot to go out there and win a major.
Lucas Glover, a Clemson alum, won the 2009 U.S. Open. Have you had a chance to speak with him?
Martin: He actually came and talked to our whole team and told us about the week. He sat down with us for probably 2½ hours and we got a chance to ask questions. I am hoping to get out and play a practice round with him. I know he has played the Masters a couple of times. So I’m sure he can give me some tips of what to expect during the tournament.
Being from South Carolina, has it been difficult to ward off all the ticket requests?
Martin: Yeah, it’s been tough. I get eight tickets for each day. My parents are handling all that and have made a big list. It’s tough to invite everybody who is on the list, but we’ll just have to trim it down.
When did the invitation come in the mail?
Martin: I got it Christmas Eve.
A lot of guys say the invite doesn’t sink in until they receive the actual invitation from Augusta. Was it that way for you?
Martin: Getting that in the mail kind of makes it official. It started getting me excited for the first week of April.
What have you done with the invitation?
Martin: We are going to get it framed.
Any aspect of your game that you’ve been working on since the spring semester started to prepare for Augusta?
Martin: I’ve been trying to get familiar with the greens. I think that’s the biggest part around there. You’ve got to be on the right side of the hole locations and know where to miss it because some of the slopes out there make it a tough two-putt if you are in the wrong spot.
During those Masters trips as a youth, did you ever think in the back of your mind that you’d someday be walking those fairways in the tournament?
Martin: I was just out there taking it all in when I was younger. Of course, I was hoping to be out there [as a player], but you never know. When you are on the practice putting green, you think about a putt to win the Masters. It’s definitely something I’ve always wanted to play in, but I never knew I would get out there quite this soon.
Does any particular Masters stand out?
Martin: I was on 18 the year Phil won. I guess that was 2004. The leap. We went down early to set up some chairs on 18 green for the end. That’s probably the most memorable thing I saw down there. I remember trying to get balls and autographs from guys.
And now you are going to be that guy young kids will be seeking autographs or golf balls from. How cool is that going to be?
Martin: Being an hour away [from home], I will have some fan support. At the Open, I had 10 or 12 people who were following me. At Augusta, it’s going to be a little bigger than that.
Have you set up any practice rounds with Clemson alums or PGA Tour stars you idolize?
Martin: I haven’t set up anything yet. I am sure I will try to play with Lucas one day. I may try to play with Zach Johnson one of the days, too. Once it’s closer, I will try to figure all that out.
Last year at the U.S. Amateur, your dad caddied and he incurred a Rules infraction that fortunately didn’t cost you a match. Will he be back on your bag or have you hired an Augusta National caddie?
Martin: My dad said he was going to retire after the Amateur. I’m actually using an Augusta caddie, Benji Thompson. He’s from North Augusta. I grew up playing golf with his younger brother (Justin) in high school and junior golf. Benji is 26 or 27 and has been caddying out there since high school. He got a job after college, but didn’t like it, so he decided this year to start caddying again. So I got hooked up with him through his younger brother. I’ve used him every time I’ve gone down and we work pretty well together.
What wisdom has he imparted to you about playing the course?
Martin: The other day when I was playing, I hit it in the water on 15 and he was like, “It won’t bother me if you never go for this green in two.” He knows the lines off the tee. But the biggest part is the greens. He can see some things that I would never see. And that’s huge down there.
Not a bad way to end your senior year at Clemson: an invitation to the Masters and a spot in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach?
Martin: I picked a good year with the Open being at Pebble. This is my fifth year [of school]. I actually graduated in December [with a degree in financial management]. It worked out for me to stay amateur to play in those two events. It worked out perfectly coming back for my fifth year.
What is your plan for the summer?
Martin: I think I am going to go ahead and turn pro after the Open and play in whatever I can get in until Q-School in the fall.
Are some of your Clemson teammates jealous of your upcoming itinerary?
Martin: They are giving me a hard time about it. Like last weekend I was at Augusta and we had a [team] tournament about 30 minutes away. So they were down playing a different course and I went down to play Augusta, and I met them later that afternoon. They were giving me a hard time about it when I came over.
What’s the best score you have shot at Augusta?
Martin: I think my low is a 73. Most of the time I have just been going out by myself and hitting a few shots around the greens. I have only officially kept score one time and that’s when I shot the 73.
Have you run into any of the other amateurs who received invitations to the 2010 Masters?
Martin: I played with Nathan Smith, the Mid-Am champ, one time down there. He had stopped by on his way to the Jones Cup [at Sea Island]. We just happened to be out there the same day and played together. Other than that, I’ve just been going out with my caddie.
David Shefter can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.