By Zac Ellis
FRANKLIN, Tenn. – Vanderbilt’s finish at its NCAA Regional in College Grove, Tenn. didn’t sit well with Patrick Martin. Sure, the Commodores capped last week’s tournament in second place, good for a fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Championships. Martin also finished in a tie for third in the individual standings.
But Vanderbilt, which entered the final round with an eight-shot lead on the 13-team field, shot 13-over on Wednesday to squander its chance at a Regional Championship. Now Martin hopes that experience serves as a lesson for the Commodores, who tee off Friday at the NCAA Championships at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill.
“Last week showed we’re going to have tough days down the road,” Martin said. “We may not have handled it well in that final round, but we luckily have a chance to go improve our game next week.”
A stacked Vanderbilt has the talent to vie for its first-ever NCAA title. For the Dores to get there, Martin must display the heady consistency that’s defined his sophomore campaign in 2017. Following his five-under 211 (66-69-76) in College Grove, the Birmingham, Ala. native has three top-five finishes in his last four starts. Martin ended the regular season as a First-Team All-SEC pick alongside senior teammate Matthias Schwab.
But Martin’s talent stands the test of time for Vanderbilt: his 70.53 career stroke average is the lowest in program history. Martin’s skillset often belies his youth, says Commodores head coach Scott Limbaugh.
“He’s a stud,” said Limbaugh, the 2017 Coach of the Year. “He’s as good as any golfer in the country.”
That much was true in 2016, when Martin earned Freshman All-America honors and notched five top-10 finishes as a first-year Commodore. But Martin has become an even more consistent competitor for Vanderbilt this season. Amid counsel from Limbaugh and assistant coach Dusty Smith, Martin worked hard to shore up his own deficiencies on the course.
The results have been positive for the Commodores. In March, Martin won The Schenkel Invitational in Statesboro, Ga. for his first collegiate individual title. Martin later finished runner-up at the SEC Championships by carding a Vanderbilt-record 10-under par 200.
“This year I’ve gotten a little stronger and have been hitting the ball farther,” Martin said. “My edge game and chipping has gotten a lot better. Something I’ve struggled with is my speed on the greens, and I’ve certainly improved that in the last year.”
Limbaugh is quick to point to Martin’s mental acuity as an underreacted aspect of his game. The sophomore often resembles a grizzled veteran in clutch moments.
“The word gets thrown around a lot, but he’s really tough,” Limbaugh said. “He’s not scared of the moment. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t get nervous, but he’s got this sense about him that he’s pretty much always in control of his emotions.” That focus will be useful for the Dores at the NCAA Championships, which run from May 26-31. Following three days of stroke play May 26-28 (54 holes), the field is narrowed to 15 teams. The final day of stroke play slices the field to eight teams, who then advance to match play as well as the 72-hole individual championship.
Vanderbilt missed out on a team title in its NCAA Regional. Martin said the Commodores aren’t ready to relive that feeling just yet.
“If there’s still something to strive for, we’re hungry,” Martin said, “and there’s still something to go get.”