REUTERS – American Ben Martin hit the jackpot with his maiden PGA Tour victory in Las Vegas 12 months ago but knows he once again needs to make up for his relatively short distance off the tee for his title defence this week.
The modern game is dominated by power hitters such as Jason Day, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson and Adam Scott while players such as Martin, who languished in 110th spot for average driving distance on the 2014-15 PGA Tour, need to excel in other areas.
“Length is kind of the way the game is moving,” Martin, 28, told reporters while preparing for Thursday’s opening round in the $6.4 million Shriners Hospitals for Children Open at the TPC Summerlin.
“You look at a lot of the guys who are playing well in the majors — Dustin and Jason and I guess Jordan (Spieth) is the anomaly in there in that he doesn’t bomb it but he gets it in the hole.
“That’s one reason why I enjoy coming to courses like this … you don’t necessarily have to hit it a long way but it is an advantage.”
Martin triumphed by two shots at the TPC Summerlin last year, holding off a late challenge by fellow American Kevin Streelman as he covered the last four holes in four under par.
“It was an awesome way to finish … my heart was beating out of my chest,” Martin recalled of a storming run down the stretch that included a 45-foot eagle putt at the 16th and a 20-footer at the last.
“The toughest part is to know your strengths and say, ‘Hey, I’m not the one of the guys who hits it a long way so how am I going to be able to beat those guys who are hitting it 30, 40 yards past me?’
“Whether it’s wedging it well or scrambling or putting well … being able to know what you do well and know how you score is important.”
All but one of the last eight champions at the TPC Summerlin have posted a winning total of at least 20 under par, and Martin followed that recipe as he finished at 20-under 264 to claim his first PGA Tour title a year ago.
“Vegas is a course where you’re not going to shoot even par if you want to win on Sunday,” Martin grinned.
Martin, the 2009 U.S. Amateur runner-up, will have to contend with a relatively strong field in the second event on the 2015-16 PGA Tour.
World number five Rickie Fowler is the highest-ranked player competing, followed by fellow Americans Brooks Koepka (12th), Jimmy Walker (17th), Kevin Na (24th) and Brandt Snedeker (30th).
Nine former champions are in the field, including Webb Simpson (2013), Ryan Moore (2012), Na (2011), Jonathan Byrd (2010) and Martin Laird (2009).
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)