Just a single shot determined whether USF junior golfer Kelly Martin would take home her first collegiate tournament victory in February’s UCF Invitational.
On the first day of play, Martin tied UCF’s star player Federica Piovano for the lead with 71. The next day, the pressure was on and Martin had to play alongside Piovano to determine the winner.
“Piovano made a birdie at the 17th hole to tie me,” said Martin. The invitational would be decided with a dramatic finish on hole 18.
Martin and Piovano both drove the ball about the same distance, each leaving about a 30-foot shot on the green. Martin’s shot landed within a foot of the hole, while Piovano smacked the ball too hard and exceeded the hole by about eight feet. Martin finished the tournament by making par at that hole and taking home the title, while Piovano finished just one shot behind her and landed in second.
“If Piovano would have made her putt, then we would have gone into a playoff,” said Martin.
Martin’s dramatic finish and consistent style of play have earned her respect on the women’s golf team.
“It came down to the very last putt on the very last hole,” said coach Susan Holt. “I was proud of the way she handled the pressure.”
Martin has made consistency her trademark this semester, leading the Bulls in three tournaments. She placed 20th at the Lady Gator Invitational Feb. 22-24, hitting 233 in drenching rains and swirling winds. In the Tulane tournament, Martin shot 79 and hit five birdies before the contest was rained out.
“Martin had a great year last year and was the most solid and consistent player on the team, but she slumped a little bit last fall,” said Holt.
“We lost six seniors, and there was too much pressure on her.”
But Martin redeemed herself this semester.
“I talked to her at the beginning of the semester,” Holt said. “I wanted to see her get back to enjoying the game.”
And Martin is doing just that. “We have a lot of fun while we’re out there,” she said. “The team, the coach. I couldn’t have asked for any better.”
As a 12-year-old swinging her first iron, Martin never imagined herself competing for USF.
“The funny thing is that I don’t remember the first day I picked up a club. And now I can’t imagine my life without golf.”
Martin’s athletic abilities don’t end with golf. As a teenager in Essex, England, a suburban town 40 miles north of London, she skiied and also played badminton and netball, which is similar to basketball.
Martin has parents, Sonia and Gerry Martin, to thank for her success. “They are real supportive, but they never push too hard,” she said. “They helped me get placed over here for my freshman year of college. Without them, I would have been lost.”
Martin found herself at USF after vacationing with her parents in Naples, Fla. “My mom found Coach Holt’s number, and I called her to have a look around,” she said.
A couple of months later, Holt called Martin and offered her a full scholarship.
Holt said she feels fortunate that Martin chose USF. “She has exceeded all of my expectations,” she said.
Martin’s past experiences and her positive philosophy are now paying off. In England, she won several regional tournaments and was captain of the Under-18 division of England’s Southeast region.
According to Holt, her laid-back personality allows her to remain calm under pressure. “But she remains competitive at the same time,” Holt said.
Martin said she stays relaxed and dedicated. “Annoyance does happen when you make a bad shot, but you have to get over it and move on,” she said. “The only shot you can do anything about is the one you’re about to make.”
“All right,” she says when Holt asks her how she is playing. When she is shooting poorly, she responds “all right.” When she hits well on the green, she still says “all right.”
“She would be a great poker player because she is so hard to read. She has a leg up on a lot of people because of this calmness,” Holt said.
But Martin said the coach is starting to figure her out. “Coach says I have a bounce in my step when I’m playing well, that I have that look about me.”
Despite her successes, Martin is unsure if she will pursue a career in the pros.
“I like the idea of doing what I love every day,” she said. “But living out of a suitcase and struggling at first to make a little money isn’t all that appealing.”
“But ask me tomorrow, and I might change my mind,” she said.
Martin said she doesn’t want to have any regrets in 20 years.But her ability on the team is certain. “The spotlight has shifted over to Kelly as a leader,” said Holt. “She is getting her confidence back.”
She would probably respond, “All right.”
Martin will attempt to lead the Bulls again this weekend in the Miami Lakes Championship and on April 20th in the Conference USA Championships in Hattiesburg, Miss.
Mary Goodman covers women’s golf and can be reached at email@example.com