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Published: Wednesday, 7/16/2014 - Updated: 2 months ago

SPORTS COMMENTARY

Hackenberg: ‘‍Mighty Mo’ savors mighty pro moment

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

The beauty of sports is the unexpected, those storybook moments when the hero or heroine, be it the favorite or an underdog, grabs the brass ring in a manner so spectacular that the hairs rise up on the back of your neck.

Mo Martin’s magical moment came Sunday in the Women’s British Open at Royal Birkdale. The sun buried in the clouds, the wind whipping, Martin stood almost 240 yards from the pin on the 18th hole, the 72nd of this major championship.

At that moment in time, the book on Mo was a slim one. The 31-year-old California native was a nonwinner in 63 previous starts on the LPGA Tour, the No. 99-ranked golfer in the world, and despite her nickname, Mighty Mo, was mighty short as pro golfers go, both in stature and in length.

The slightly downhill shot on the par-5 hole was a perfect, full 3-wood for the 5-foot-2 Martin. She aimed far left with a crosswind blowing everything hard to the right, and she watched it track. It was one of those slow-motion moments and the shot kept looking better and better to her.

As it landed on the front of the green, Mo yelled, “Sit.” As it began to slow on the roll, she yelled “Go.” And then she stopped yelling, which allowed her to hear the ball hit the flagstick 240 yards away.

That’s not always a good thing. The ball might have dropped for a double eagle, or more likely it might have caromed hard and run 30 feet to the side into a bunker. This was a soft collision, though, and Martin watched it stop six feet from the cup.

“It’s definitely one to remember,” she said Tuesday after arriving at Highland Meadows Golf Club where she will play in this week’s Marathon Classic.

She made the putt for the eagle and then, hoping her 1-under total was good enough for a playoff, she waited for about an hour as one challenger after another came to the last hole. No one caught her, and when caddie Kyle Morrison came up to her on the range and told her it was over, that she had won, Mo threw both arms into the air and screamed, “Is this real life?”

She was still pinching herself Tuesday after a late night Sunday and a long, tiring day of travel back from England on Monday.

When her last flight landed, she turned on her cell phone for the first time in about 24 hours, and it darned near exploded with hundreds and hundreds of text messages and emails.

The return address on one of the emails caught her attention. She opened the attachment and read a hand-written, congratulatory letter from Arnold Palmer.

Now there’s a man who knows a magical shot and an extraordinary moment when he sees one.

Arnie probably doesn’t remember, but he and Mighty Mo met a couple decades ago when he was in Pasadena for an exhibition and posed for a picture with a 10-year-old girl who was in the gallery.

“He’s always been so kind; he always has time for everybody,” Martin said.

She still has the picture and, after receiving Palmer’s letter, said she intends to sign it and send it to him.

The King will get a kick out of that. He’d also get a kick out of Martin, who despite not beginning to approach his superstardom, is a lot like Palmer when it comes to professionalism, kindness, and making time for fans.

But there has been another gentleman on Mo’s mind since becoming a major champion. Actually, this one is always on her mind.

Toledo golf fans were introduced to Martin in 2012, her rookie year on tour, when the then-Jamie Farr Classic was one of the first tournaments she cashed in. But the headline-grabber that week was the man at the center of her fan club, riding in a motorized scooter, wearing a big Stetson and a button on his jacket that said “Go Mo!”

Her grandfather, Lincoln Martin, was 100 years old then, and he passed away this last March at 102. Although they came together late — her dad and grandfather were estranged — they quickly became devoted to one another. She spent as much time as possible at his California ranch, which became her “sanctuary; the most peaceful place I’ve ever been.”

“When I count my blessings he is at the top,” Mo said. “I think he would have been elated with what happened Sunday. Most importantly, though, he would have treated me the same way.”

Mo has inherited some of that. Her win at Royal Birkdale won’t change her a whole lot, although the payday of nearly $500,000 will ease up on Criteria No. 3.

There are three of them she used to evaluate whether or not to continue on while spending six years on the developmental tour before finally making it to the LPGA.

“One, wake up happy in the morning. Two, feel that I’m contributing a little to the game. Three, that I’m paying my own bills,” is how she listed them.

The journey wasn’t always easy, but Mo said she was too stubborn and determined to quit.

And that’s what made the destination and her arrival such a storybook moment.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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