The new Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa head coach made Sunday’s one of his best. He shot a bogey-free 8-under-par 64 and ran away from the field on the back nine of a course he was playing for the first time this weekend to win the RTJ Silver Lakes Championship.
His 10-under 134 for the weekend was four shots better than runner-up Randy Lipscomb of Gadsden and five clear of Anniston’s Gary Wigington and Robson Copenhaver of Scottsboro.
“I like competitive golf; I like to play in golf tournaments,” Martin said. “I tell people football’s first, but golf’s a close second when it comes to my off time. I enjoy doing it.
“Some people fish and hunt, I play golf. When coaches fish and hunt, they don’t get their name in the paper. If you play good golf, you get your name in the paper, then they’ll say you’re playing too much golf. I’ll put (the clubs) up in August and I’ll get them back out in December, and if the winters are too cold, I might not play until February or March.”
But Martin — who retired to Alabama after 22 years as a football coach in Louisiana and had prior stints at Spain Park, Calera and Pell City before taking the Hillcrest job for the coming season — doesn’t just play golf, he plays well. He now has six rounds in the 60s this season, including a 65 at his home course (Timberline) as recently as last week, and eight club championships among the victories to his credit.
He made it look easy Sunday. He started the day three shots off the lead, but birdied his first three holes — just as close friend and former Anniston resident Eric Messer projected in a conversation the night before. He birdied the par-5 ninth to turn in 6-under for the tournament, then added birdies on 11, 14, 16 and 17 on the back.
He hit 17 greens in regulation.
“I hit it the right distance all day,” he said. “I bogeyed 17 and 18 (Saturday) to shoot 70 and told Eric I was so disappointed because I wanted to be within about one of the lead and now I’m three back. He said you can make that up if you birdied 1, 2 and 3, so when I knocked the birdie in on 3 that was the first thing I thought of.
“I knew that might not be all the way back to the leaders, but I knew it would get me within one shot or so of the lead.”
Lipscomb eagled the par-5 10th to draw even with Martin on the leaderboard, but was left in the 49-year-old Calera resident’s wake on the road home. He birdied the last hole to shoot 68 and finish solo second.
“It was the best round I’ve seen in person, (being) in the same group,” Lipscomb said. “After I tied him on 10, he had a 10-footer on 11 and I had a 15-footer; I missed mine, he made his and he never looked back.
“This is a good finish for me. Me and Jake (Nichols) play with these Calhoun County guys because they’re serious business down here and any time you finish second within that group it’s pretty good. And finishing second to a 64 is almost like, in my own way, winning it because it’s like I’ve got no chance (to catch Martin).”
While Martin was pulling away, there was some drama going on behind him. Jeremy McGatha was tied with first-round co-leader and pairing partner Nichols contending for the lead when his hands starting cramping in the triple-digit temperatures on the 14th hole.
Despite all precautions before and during the round, the condition had gotten so bad, he was considering withdrawing – something he’s never done in his playing career. With relief being provided by tournament officials and spectators, he persevered and wound up shooting 73 to finish tied for seventh with his Sunny King Classic partner Jaylon Ellison.
“I was lucky to get done,” McGatha said. “I didn’t want to (withdraw), but I was going to have to. I fought hard to finish.
“I’ve played in a lot of golf tournaments in a lot of heat and never had this happen. I’ll prepare differently for the Sunny King.”
Al Muskewitz covers golf for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.