Parts of the Northeast are digging out from under two feet of snow but the start of the LPGA’s 2016 season is at hand. The schedule commences in the Bahamas beginning January 28 and features 35 events, including the second edition of the International Crown and the first Olympic tournament since 1904.
It’s been nine weeks since the 2014 LPGA season concluded. Mo Martin, who’s preparing to start her fifth season on tour, says she took advantage of her downtime. “I take a longer break than most,” she says. “Some players take a couple weeks off. I took closer to five weeks off.
“When I say off, I mean completely off. People invite me for a casual round and I politely decline. I’ve just realized I need that. My breakthrough season when I made it to the LPGA, I took a month and a half off before that (2011) season.
“Physically, emotionally, mentally, I think I need to recharge all of those batteries (in the offseason) and in order to do that I completely need to unplug for a while.
“And I think it’s important too with our lifestyle. We sacrifice so much as far as relationships go, just with family and friends and so I spent a lot of my time catching with the people that I’ve missed.
“So I took full advantage of the break. And I did things I enjoy like rollerblading and dancing, and went to the Tournament of Roses Parade with my family.”
Although she stayed away from golf during her hiatus, Martin worked to sustain her level of fitness. “Physically, I didn’t sit on the couch,” she says. “I got my workouts in because that’s something I think is important in all-around life and also specifically for golf. I was in the gym quite a bit. Just not a lot at the golf course.”
The LPGA’s 67th season promises to be a memorable one, if for no other reason than the way the schedule is set up. The calendar was constructed with the International Crown and the Olympics in mind. Fitting in five major championships while making allowances for the tour’s traditional swings through Asia and Europe required some creativity on the part of those in charge of such things and some understanding on the part of the players, who will see their durability and resolve tested as never before over the next 10 months.
Beginning with the Kingsmill Championship Presented by JTBC the week of May 16 the tour will be in action for 11 consecutive weeks. During that stretch, three major championships will be conducted in a span of seven weeks. The KPMG LPGA Championship will be played June 9-12, to be followed four weeks later by the U.S. Women’s Open, which is set for July 7-10. The International Crown is set for just two weeks later, July 21-24 with The RICOH Women’s British Open set for the following week, from July 28-31. That’s the last event before the Olympic tournament the week of August 15.
Martin says its imperative she take some time off in the midst of all that. “ It’s really hard to choose but necessary,” she says. “You’ve got to chop that (schedule) up a little bit.
“Some players only play three events in a row. I finished out 2015 with five weeks in Asia and my body was hurting. My back was acting up on the fourth week and I had a stomach bug. Five weeks is quite a lot.
“I’ve heard of players going seven weeks in a row and eight and they’re pretty tired at the end of it. I don’t know if anybody is going to play in all of those. I’m certainly not; I’m going to try to break it up a little bit. I will definitely be taking one and maybe two weeks off in that stretch.
“In order to perform at your best you’ve got to preserve (your physical and mental energy), trying to recharge is physically challenging and it’s emotionally draining and mentally you’ve got to be sharp. You have to be intact and that’s really hard to do if you’re going all those weeks in a row.”
Martin starts the new year after a 2015 season that was a study in consistency. She pocketed not quite $340,000 in earnings while recoding two top-10 finishes; a tie for fifth in Portland and a tie for 10th at the ShopRite LPGA Classic Presented by Acer in Atlantic City, while dealing all the while with the aftermath of a hand injury.
“It was probably the best ball striking season of my career,” Martin says, “which I was so happy with, just coming off the injury and having to play in a splint for the entire year, changing my grip, having to add a splint, and then having the best ball striking season of my career.
“That was, way more than I ever would have asked for or imagined or prayed for at the beginning of the year. That was incredible. To remain healthy and successfully transition to a new grip. Some people take years to do that so it’s very, very easy to count my blessings there.”
At 5-1 and 115 pounds, Martin isn’t a long hitter in an era when power and distance are emphasized above all else. But there is more than one way of getting things done as others have demonstrated before her, including Paul Runyan, her former instructor and one of the greatest iron players in history. “People inflate how far they hit it all the time,” Martin says, “how far everybody hits it all the time its like a game.
“But to put things in perspective, hitting the ball over 230 yards off the tee, I’m getting a lot out of my body. I’m doing a lot of things correctly to hit it that far. Because I don’t hit it far I think my ball striking is easy to overlook but I’ve been hitting the ball extremely well.
“Last year was a great ball striking year and I can’t take advantage of it like somebody who hits it 260-270 off the tee but putting it in perspective, managing the golf course is a huge asset and it has served me very well.”
At age 33 Martin is happy with where her game is. She’s also happy with where the LPGA is and the work of commissioner Mike Whan.
“Mike’s done an incredible job,” she says, “and he’s done that from the beginning. I think he gets the concepts of good business and he recognizes all that we have to offer. He was very successful before he came to the LPGA and so u think the combination of capitalizing on what we have to offer and making it clear that it is a team effort with us and that we’re all on board. I feel like he’s made it clear that he’s the captain of the ship but it’s taking the whole crew to move it.
“He’s a great leader and he’s very skilled. So we’re in good hands and I’m glad that he signed on and decided to stay.”
by Rick Woelfel