Ben Martin’s tournament hopes faded in tandem with his first shot on No. 15, an initially promising drive that kept pushing further to the right of the fairway.
The Greenwood native approached that tee at 10 under, a shot back of eventual winner Matt Kuchar. The buildup was promising: A pair of birdies on 13 and 14 prompted a pair of roars from the crowd, and it appeared home-state glory was within reach.
But if the drive was not enough to put a Heritage championship out of reach, it was the second shot — when Martin attempted a daring escape from behind a trio of trees only to see his ball ricochet off into the corresponding woods to the left — that sealed his fate. Even a stellar approach with his fifth shot and a bogey save wasn’t enough.
But rather than look back at his round and tournament as a missed opportunity, Martin said afterward he would rather focus on all that he accomplished this week.
“I think that’s just golf, and that happens out here, especially at Harbour Town,” Martin said of the 15th hole. “I’m one to look at what I did than what could have been. I just remember a lot of the good shots I had.”
Good shots and good memories, including having his younger brother, Matt, serve as his caddie for the final two rounds after his usual one had a wedding commitment to keep. Martin said his brother did a good job of keeping him relaxed, even as he climbed the leader board. Only once did he solicit his brother’s advice, after the fateful drive.
“I didn’t really have a shot, so we just tried to pick the best of the bad options, really,” Martin said. “I think I hit the right shot, but it just didn’t work out.”
Matt Martin, who also plays golf, didn’t interject often over the final two days, mostly looking on and providing moral support as his brother excelled.
On No. 15, however, he did his best to help Ben out of a tight spot.
“That was just a bad break,” Matt Martin said. “He hit a good drive there, a little bit right, and it rolled all the way down that sand. He was trying to hit it high. I said, ‘Well you could play it out left, then maybe take it over the trees,’ and he didn’t really like that idea.”
On the whole, however, the Clemson graduate and crowd favorite put together a performance worthy of his top-three finish. Martin said he didn’t check the leaders throughout the final round. Instead, he soaked in the support of the gallery and rode shot after stellar shot through a pressure-packed Sunday.
“It’s a long year,” Martin said. “Instead of focusing so much on winning tournaments, (I’m focusing on) just going out there and playing good golf.”
Somewhere between the 16th and 17th holes, Martin said he heard the roar from 18, a vociferous confirmation of Kuchar’s tournament-clinching chip. Despite coming up short, the man who missed the cut in his four previous tournaments knew he had put on a good show.
“It was a special weekend,” Martin said. “Couldn’t ask for a better place than to do it here in my home state.”