Justin Martinson’s interpretation of the cliché “back to the drawing board” is different than most.
He doesn’t revisit it to fix failures; rather, the Hartefeld National member erases and replaces ever-evolving goals on his golf list.
By now, the eraser’s felt is worn, the marker’s ink dry.
Martinson, a University of Delaware senior who conveys a low-key, “no frills” demeanor, achieved countless goals framed within three different levels of competition in 2010. He earned a spot in the NCAA Southeast Regional and captured both the Delaware State Golf Association and Golf Association of Philadelphia Amateur championships. And last month, he retained his Lincoln Mercury Intercollegiate title at Fiddler’s Elbow Country Club’s River Course in Bedminster, N.J., setting a course record in the process.
However, success never renders Martinson complacent; it merely inspires an increase in expectations. Martinson’s motivation molds his mantra.
“Golf is a long-term commitment. I constantly set goals for myself,” the Avondale, Pa. resident said.
Unofficially, Martinson made that commitment at age 3 when he picked up a set of Fisher Price golf clubs. The sport permeated throughout his family’s home. Martinson’s father Jack was an avid golfer who frequently played on the weekends in different competitions. He opened Justin’s gate into the golf kingdom.
“He’s never really pushed me into it. He’s let me do it if I want to do it,” Justin, 21, added.
Growing up, Justin traversed Cedar Valley Golf Course in Winona, Minn., where his family held a membership, on a regular basis.
“He used to mill around the driving range when he was 6,” Jack Martinson said. “When he was about 8 is when he really started getting interested because he loved to compete, and he was already playing organized ice hockey. When spring and summer came around, he could go out and play in tournaments.”
Justin enjoyed playing golf, but like most kids, other sports such as hockey, baseball and soccer, also held interest. Golf further receded in Justin’s mind when his family moved to Korea.
“I didn’t play much golf in 8th and 9th grade. It was kind of hard to do that in Korea,” Justin said. “I hit balls on a range, but that was like an indoor driving range in the city. I’d only get to play golf once a week.”
Two years later, Justin and his family embarked for golf-friendlier pastures in California. The move knocked a few items off the sports scale, leaving hockey and golf contending for Justin’s utmost attention.
“I had planned on not playing hockey when we moved back, but my old team convinced to play again,” Justin said. “That was the last year that I played hockey.”
Convictions aside, golf immediately emerged as the victor and seized center-stage in Justin’s life.
“When I was in California, I was on the golf course every day, seven days a week,” he said. “I’d get dropped off (at San Roman Golf Club) almost every day during the summer by like 7 or 8 in the morning and be there until 6 or 7 at night. I had a lot of friends who did the same thing, so that kind of helped.”
“My wife and I would drop him off first thing in the morning and he would play until sundown,” Jack added. “I used to play there too, so I’d be around there and these retired gentlemen would come up to me and say, ‘Man, we played with your son today.’ He became a friend of these retired guys. They just loved to get him to go out with them because they saw his talent and just enjoyed having him around. It probably helped him mature faster.”
So why exactly did the sport’s role shift from tag-along buddy to closest confidant for Justin?
“I just loved playing golf,” Martinson said. “I enjoyed practicing for some reason. I don’t know if that’s normal for a kid that age. I’d spend hours on the chipping green, just chipping and putting.”
Justin’s tenure under the California sun only lasted a year. His father’s professional obligations this time brought the Martinson family to Avondale. They purchased a home within Hartefeld National, a glaring reflection of golf’s importance.
“The golf course was the first priority. The house was second,” Justin said. “Moving out here, my dad was just looking for golf courses to find a house.”
“It was important for him to have a place where he could compete. We saw that Hartefeld was a really nice place,” Jack added. “I talked to their instructor (John Dunigan) and said, ‘Do you think you want to take on a 15-year-old kid who’s been playing a lot of tournament golf?’ At the time, Justin was a 2-handicap. John said, ‘Why don’t you send him over. I’ll give him an honest evaluation whether I think he’s got potential to go anywhere with the game.’ I dropped Justin off for a lesson, and an hour later, I get a phone call from John saying, ‘I can’t wait to work with this kid. In a year, he’s going to be a +2 handicap. And it happened.”
In essence, relocating prompted Justin to earnestly gage his level of commitment to golf.
“When we moved to Avondale, my dad and I had a discussion,” Justin said. “He told me if I wanted to really get serious about golf, then this is a good time to decide what you want to do.”
Justin responded by deepening his dedication to the game. He played on Kennett High School’s golf team for two years and primed his credentials for the college circuit.
“From a college standpoint, there was a scholarship opportunity in golf,” Justin said. “I wanted to see if I could take my game to the next level.”
Charleston Southern University in North Charleston, S.C. represented Justin’s next challenge. As a freshman, he led the Buccaneers in scoring at the CSU Fall Invitational, Mission Inn Collegiate Classic, Tommy Cuthbert Invitational and Furman Intercollegiate. All signs pointed toward success at the college level for Justin. But beneath a spotless surface lay internal conflicts.
“I liked living in Charleston, but the whole school atmosphere wasn’t for me,” Justin said. “It was a small southern Baptist school, and the academics weren’t that strong. I wasn’t performing to my best ability, so I decided I need to get back to working with Dunigan again and revamp my swing.”
A pseudo-perfectionist who cyclically demands more out of his play, Justin transferred to the University of Delaware, expectations raised and goals refreshed. He emerged as an impact performer for the Blue Hens in 2009, claiming individual titles at the Lafayette Invitational and George Washington Invitational, respectively. That summer, Justin qualified as the No. 6 seed in the Association’s Amateur Championship at Stonewall, where he fell to eventual runner-up James Kania, Jr. of Overbrook GC, 2&1, in the second round. He won the DSGA Open Championship by a staggering six strokes at Fieldstone GC and finished as runner-up in its Amateur Championship at Cripple Creek G&CC, and as a result, earned DSGA Player of the Year honors.
His lengthy list of 2009 accomplishments prompted GAP officials to classify Justin as a “Player to Watch in 2010.” And he, appropriately enough, answered that prognostication by producing one of the finest golf campaigns in recent history. First, he set a pair of Blue Hen scoring records and captured the Rehoboth Beach Spring Invitational in April at Kings Creek CC. Justin carded a 5-under-par 66 in the tournament’s second round to tie the benchmark for lowest round in school history. Furthermore, his two-round score of 133 is the program’s lowest two-round score.
Cross “amending the Blue Hen record-books” off the board.
“It was definitely a goal of mine,” Justin said. “I was excited to do that.”
Next item: earn a spot in the NCAA Southeast Regional field. Justin won the Colonial Athletic Association Championships at The Homestead’s Cascades Course in Hot Springs, Va.
Cross competing in an NCAA championship off the board.
“That was really big. That was a goal of mine,” he said. “I knew where I stood going into the last day. I knew I had to put together a good score. I played well. For me to go (to the NCAA Southeast Regional), I pretty much had to win, and I did. It felt great.”
Justin’s NCAA appearance bookmarked his junior season at the University of Delaware. He then set his sights on GAP and DSGA tournaments. Justin defeated Overbrook Golf Club’s Michael Kania, 2&1, to win the Association’s 110th Amateur Championship at Saucon Valley Country Club. Three weeks later, he captured Delaware’s Amateur crown at Wilmington Country Club’s South Course. Both triumphs distinguish Justin as the top Amateur among two different golf associations in 2010.
“It means a lot to me,” he said. “I put in a lot of work, and it’s very gratifying to see that work pay off.”
Justin carried a hard work ethic and dominant level of play into his senior season at Delaware. In an effort to admirably defend his Lincoln Mercury Intercollegiate title, Justin carded an atypical 5-over-par 77 at Fiddler’s Elbow to open the tournament seven strokes off the lead.
“I had 38 putts in the first and felt like I was putting well,” Justin said. “I talked to my dad afterwards and he said, ‘Your putting stroke looks fine. I don’t think you need to change anything. Just go out and play.’”
“I’ll go watch him on the putting green or on the range,” Jack added. “I try to encourage him in the positive ways. I’ll tell him, ‘Focus on what you do well and be confident in what you’re doing out there.’ Technically, he’s very sound. He seldom gets really way off. But his putter lets him down sometimes, and he gets a little anxious with it. I tell him relax and make good strokes.”
The strokes weren’t good in the final round; they were superb. Justin scorched the Rivers Course to the tune of an 8-under-par 64 — a Fiddler’s Elbow course record. Cross a successful title defense off the board.
“I really didn’t do anything than I did the day before other than not miss those three or four footers that I couldn’t even hit the hole with,” Justin said. “It was a great feeling to come from seven shots back and win a tournament by two like that.”
Needless to say, Justin’s left a sizeable imprint on the University of Delaware men’s golf program.
“I’m going to try and break every NCAA rule by keeping him,” Head Coach Mike Keogh said jokingly. “Last spring, Justin even made his schedule so he only had classes on Tuesday and Thursday so he could practice the other three days a week. The kid’s good because the kid practices an inordinate amount of time on his own, and that’s what separates the kids who want to be on the golf team and hope they do well from the kids who want to be on the golf team and know they’ll do well because they put in the time and effort.”
When scattering to find reasons for Justin’s success, look no further than his silent yet sound attitude. A strict warm-up regiment polishes Justin’s mental approach to each tournament. He routinely arrives at the course nearly two hours before his tee time.
“I like to just get in a good mindset,” Justin said. “I start off by putting, and then I get on the range and I like to visualize shots when I hit them. On the course, I try to go out with a plan. I like to split up each hole. I’m trying to go from even to 1-under. Other times, I split it up into a three-hole tournament. I try to get however many under (par) after three holes, then I start all over again at even.”
Despite refining an already-impressive resume, Justin believes there’s more room for golf growth.
“The fall usually for me tells me what I need to work on going into the winter, he said. “I felt like I was doing a lot of good things in the fall. I feel like I played a lot better than my scores were. Regardless of that, the scores still were pretty good.”
“He has a lot of motivation to do well,” Jack added. “There are moments where he’ll get discouraged, and I’ll say to him the only way to get through it is to practice, but you have to have goals when you practice. You can’t just go out and bang balls. You‘ve got define the areas where you’re not doing well and improve in those areas.”
Only a few goals remain as Justin, an international relations major, prepares for his final spring season at Delaware. He hopes to again advance to an NCAA tournament and to prevail in the Championship proper. Post-graduation, golf will truly become a long-term commitment as Justin will look to turn professional.
“He has a legitimate shot to make a living on tour because he has what I’ve called a flat-out Iron-Byron swing,” Keogh said. “The swing just repeats itself. His work ethic is so much stronger than some of the other kids.”
With an ample supply of motivation intact, Justin seems poised to take his game to the next level.
“(Turning professional) is going to be a challenge, but he’s taken it every single time,” Jack said. “He certainly grew and got better and knew he could win. He just had to stick at it. When he turns professional, it’s going to be the same thing. You’ve got to be ready for the long haul.”
Perhaps a Masters appearance is in the drawing board’s future.
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