Ben Martin surges to Zurich Classic lead with course record
A few weeks ago, Ben Martin had missed seven of eight cuts and figured he better make some changes.
He started by meeting with his sports psychologist and hiring an old buddy from Clemson as his new caddie.
The results have been pretty good so far.
On Thursday, Martin treated a tiny late-afternoon gallery to a course-record round, shooting a 10-under-par 62 in the first round of the Zurich Classic.
"Really, everything was working well," Martin said. "I had a pretty good start and just kept it rolling. It was just one of those days, just like you draw it up."
Martin birdied 10 holes and made pars on the rest. His final birdie came on his most spectacular shot in a round full of them when he chipped in from 55 feet with a 54-degree sand wedge on the par-3 17th hole. That came a hole after the 26-year-old South Carolina native hit the flag on a chip from behind the green, setting up a tap-in par.
The previous record at TPC Louisiana was a 64, accomplished many times, including once earlier Thursday, when Andrew Svoboda did it to take a lead that held up until Martin surged past late in the day.
Peter Hanson and Sueng-Yul Noh were tied for third at 65.
Martin stayed home during the Masters two weeks ago, when meetings with his psychologist persuaded him to focus more on the process of playing on the tour than his results. Then he hired fellow former Clemson player Alex Boyd to haul his clubs, giving him a sense of comfort as walked the course with someone he could talk to about anything.
"We’re good friends . . . have a lot in common, so a lot to talk about in between shots," Martin said.
Last weekend, Martin matched his career best with a third-place tie in the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head, S.C. He also finished third in early March in the Puerto Rico Open but missed four cuts after that.
Martin opened the Zurich with a 10-foot birdie putt, the first of six birdies on the front nine, most set up by approach shots within 10 feet. One exception was his 26-foot birdie putt on No. 5. He opened the back nine with a 14-foot birdie putt, made a 10-footer on 11 and a 20-footer on 13.
Most of the round was followed by only a dozen or so people, including his mother, Suzie, who could be heard making encouraging comments like, "nice putt," and "good par."
Svoboda birdied six of his last nine holes.
Like Martin, the 34-year-old Svoboda has never won on the PGA Tour and appreciates how much can change in the next three rounds. At the same time, New Orleans has seen its share of maiden tour triumphs. It has happened in six of the past nine years, and 10 of the past 16.
"I’ll take that stat," Svoboda said.
Svoboda’s best career finish on the PGA Tour is a tie for 15th at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas last October.
Hanson’s round was highlighted by an eagle on the par 4 sixth hole, accomplished with a 6-iron from 183 yards.
Hanson, who missed the cut at the Masters, put away his clubs for four days after that and tried to relax, which he said helped.
"We want to do this so exact and be so precise," Hanson said. "I over-read putts and overanalyze the shots, trying to figure this game out. I think sometimes you have to let the score come to you instead of you going after it."
Erik Compton, Chad Collins and Michael Thompson were tied for fifth at 66, and Jeff Overton, Stuart Appleby and Robert Streb followed at 67.
Compton, a two-time heart transplant recipient, spent the early part of the week meeting with children with heart conditions at a New Orleans-area hospital and participated in a junior golf clinic. Although that limited his practice time, he thought it put him in a good frame of mind.
"It seems to really relax me and really puts things in perspective," Compton said. "I seem to play better during the weeks where I have hospital visits."
On the par-5 seventh, his 297-yard drive sailed right of the fairway, crossing a cart path. But he belted a 227-yard shot out of the rough to the foot of the green and two-putted for birdie. He ended his round with a 22-foot birdie putt on nine to briefly put him atop the leaderboard.
"This is a course that I feel very comfortable on," said Compton, also winless on the PGA Tour. "You have to hit a lot of long iron shots and drive it well here, and those are some of the strengths of my game."