On a weekend when Germany won the World Cup (as predicted) and Justin Rose won the Scottish Open (as expected), Cinderella stories were hard to come by. And we need those tales of underdog triumph to keep us going.
Most of us are underdogs. The world is set up that way. While the few, the proud – the lucky – bask in the limelight, the rest of us scrub away, getting up each morning with the odds stacked against us but persevering nonetheless. We get ourselves to work, knowing we probably won’t hear a kind word from the boss or the customers today, knowing we might not meet expectations, knowing that no raise, no promotion is in sight, expecting no more than “another day, another dollar.”
But who knows? Perhaps our luck will change. This could be the day we win – win what? That big promotion? That coveted date? The lottery?
In Mo Martin’s story, it’s the Women’s British Open.
Yes, I’m talking about golf. But isn’t golf a lot like life – a game of skill and luck?
It was a bleak day at Royal Birkdale with the wind whipping off the Irish Sea at around 25 miles per hour, not the kind of day for low scores. The unpredictable and unforgiving links had claimed some surprising victims, sending US Women’s Open champion Michele Wie packing early. But there was no shortage of previous champions left on the leader board on the final day of the prestigious Women’s British Open. South Korea’s Inbee Park, for example. She was in the lead by a stroke, looking to become only the seventh woman to win four of the LPGA’s majors.
And then there was Mo.
Nobody was paying much attention to the 31-year-old American. It was her 64th LPGA tournament, her ninth year as a pro, and she hadn’t won yet.
Mo was not a star. True, she was a standout at UCLA, but it took her six years to reach the LPGA Tour. She was ranked 99th in the world, one of the many pro golfers who go from day to day, just managing to pay their bills and keep the dream alive.
Mo’s game was solid on this day, not spectacular but solid. At 5-foot-2, she is among the shortest hitters in women’s golf. She had moved into the lead on the second day, but lost it, and trailed big names like Park and Shanshan Feng of China.
And now it was her last hole, her last chance for glory. She stood in the fairway and looked across the gnarly terrain at the green, 236 yards away. She reached for her 3-wood.
If you play the game long enough, you will probably know what it feels like to hit the ball in “the sweet spot.” It sends a shiver of pure joy up your arm and into your heart as the ball sails, straight and long, zeroing in on the target.
And on Sunday, July 13, 2014, on the fairway of the par-5 18th hole of the Women’s British Open, with the wind at her back and one last swing at victory, Mo Martin hit the ball in the sweet spot.
“I heard it hit the pin from the fairway,” she said later. “That was a pretty fun feeling.”
She still had some work to do. The ball had bounced off the flag stick and settled 6 feet away.
But, on this day, she would not miss the eagle putt.
She hadn’t won yet, though. Shanshan Feng of China and Inbee Park of South Korea were still on the course. But they faltered coming in.And Norway’s Suzann Pettersen failed to erase a pair of earlier double-bogeys with her birdie-birdie finish.
With that 3-wood, with that 6-foot putt, Mo had won the Open.
Winning a major is a life changing achievement, of course. And while women golfers don’t make nearly as much money as the men, the purse is nice, too.
Mo took home nearly half a million dollars, and will use it to save her late grandfather’s ranch back in California. Her grandfather, Lincoln Martin, died last March at 102.
He was Mo’s biggest fan, and even after turning 100, followed her on the tour. And she was devoted to him. She wore his initials on a necklace in her victory Sunday.
Perhaps he was looking down as she hit that 3-wood. Who knows?