E.A. Sports Today

Coming down the stretch

Ohatchee coach Scott Martin puts a cap on his 2021 golf season Sunday in final round of Pine Hill Invitational as football practice starts the next day

(First-round leaderboard)
Brennan Clay333366
Gary Wigington333568
Wesley Jenkins333669
Tee Brown333770
Sawyer Edwards343771
Chase Hollingsworth343771
Randy Lipscomb373471
Mark McCaig363571

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Scott Martin and Bobby Bowden have a lot in common. 

Okay, both are successful football coaches on their levels; that was a gimme. But they both also have a deep-seeded love of golf, and it’s the way they commit to the game during the year that makes them kindred spirits.

Every summer Bowden, the legendary Florida State football coach, would play every day – sometimes 36 holes – from the end of spring practice to the day of his preseason rouser on the eve of opening of training camp. Once the players report, he’d put the clubs up until next spring.

Martin is the same way, which makes his playing in this weekend’s Pine Hill Invitational especially meaningful.

The Ohatchee High School coach plays upwards of 100 rounds a year. He slides out for a quick 18 every chance he gets and is a regular in the weekend game at Silver Lakes and on the Calhoun County Golf Tour. But Sunday’s final round in the Pine Hill Invitational will be his final round of the summer.

Football practice starts for the Indians Monday morning and that means when Martin puts the clubs in the truck Sunday night, he won’t touch them again until the Indians stop playing football – which he always hopes is sometime in December when they start handing out the hardware.

It’s the approach he’s taken his entire 37-year career as a coach in Louisiana and Alabama, 29 as a head coach with more than 160 career victories. His Ohatchee team has been 52-9 over the last five playoff seasons.

“My first priority is football; that’s my job,” Martin said after firing a 1-over-par 73 Saturday that has him seven shots behind first-round leader Brennan Clay. “This is just my hobby. Some peoples’ hobby is their job, some peoples’ hobby is fishing, some peoples’ hobby is golf, somebody’s hobby is traveling, vacations. Mine is playing golf and it is a hobby. My job is first and foremost, no matter what, and I think everybody would expect that.

“I got a priority in what we’re doing with my job and what we do for football and it would not be fair to our kids or our football team if I had any letdown. Whatever is most important that’s going to help our football team that’s what’s most important to me.” 

Former Florida coach Steve Spurrier is legendary in his passion for golf. There were times he’d slide out during the week during the season for a quick morning round and be back in the office in time for the day’s practice. Martin could probably slip out for a round on Saturday during the season, but knows it would be unfair to his family to play on the only real day for family time the schedule allows.

“When football starts the golf clubs get cobwebs on them; I just don’t play a lot,” Martin said. “I am golf obsessed in the off season, but when football starts I’m absolutely focused on football. It’s funny, there’s no itch. It’s like the itch goes away. I’m pretty much a nine-month golfer. Football’s year-round. When I turn it off after tomorrow, it’ll be off.”

That means he’ll miss the final four events on the Calhoun County Tour, including the County Tournament and the Match Play Championship he’d be sure to qualify for. He’s currently ninth in the points standings with top 10s in the three events he’s played, topped by a T-4 at Silver Lakes, an event he won in 2012 while he was coaching at Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa. 

He’ll also miss the Sunny King Charity Classic, which was moved to September this year to help to give COVID reasons. That tournament holds a special place because it’s where he met his wife.

“Brett Rothwell and I played as partners every year but one when I was out of town on an anniversary trip, and then COVID canceled it (in 2020),” he said. “As soon as the new date came up I was disappointed, but I called Brett immediately and said I cannot play on the new dates. I said if they switch the dates back I want us to get back together, but these dates … there’s absolutely no way.”

Golf and football have co-existed in Martin’s world from the time he first flushed a shot as a 12-year-old hitting balls with his buddies in a field; he turns 59 on Tuesday. He played both sports in high school and in college, lettering in golf his final two years at Louisiana-Monroe.

After graduating from ULM he worked at a small school in north Louisiana and joined a club there while he was an assistant and won his first club championship.

He’s played pretty good in the last month or so, but not as well the last couple weeks as the sun starts to set on his season. The 73 he shot Saturday was highlighted by 12 hit fairways, 10 greens in regulation and 29 putts. He ranks in the top 10 among qualified players in all three categories, the top three in fairways and putts. He currently leads the Tour in putts/GIR and three-putt avoidance.

He’s closed each of the three Tour events he’s played this season with a final-round 72. Regardless of the way things turn out in what will be his final round of the season Sunday he’ll be upbeat.

“Either way I’ll be excited,” he said. “I’ll be excited because OK, I ended on a good note or phew, I’m glad football is starting.”

STARTING STRONG: Brennan Clay moved to the top of a soggy leaderboard with a strong start and equally strong finish.

Clay birdied each of his first three holes, four of his first six, and birdied three of his last five, including 18, to post a 6-under-par 66 and take a two-shot lead over defending champion Gary Wigington. The field weathered three rain delays before all the players finished.

“I wanted to birdie 1 and 2, that was my plan, and getting 3 was good,” Clay said. “I lipped out on 4 and 5, so it could’ve been a little better, but it was exactly how I wanted to start.”

The Anniston City champion had all parts of his game working. He hit 11 fairways, 14 greens and made 26 putts. Of the four greens he missed, he got up and down three times, including a chip-in birdie on 14. He birdied all four par-5s.

“For whatever reason, if I make a putt on the first hole – a 7-8-footer like I did today, dead center – it helps me out a lot,” Clay said. “I think it probably helps any golfer out, and then 2 was about a five-footer and 3 was a 12-footer. When you make those three in a row and they’re all dead in the heart (your confidence grows).

“I’ve been rolling it decent. I played a few times at the beach (with a 62 at Kiva Dunes) and putted pretty good down there.”

Wigington held the early lead with a round that was highlighted with consecutive birdies on 5, 6 and 7. 

Wesley Jenkins and Tee Brown will complete the final pairing after rounds of 69 and 70, respectively. Jenkins turned in 3-under, bogeyed 10 and got the shot back with a birdie at 18. Brown also turned in 3-under, but fell back to even with three bogeys in his first five holes on the back, but bounced back with closing birdies on 17 and 18.

Among the four players who shot 71, Randy Lipscomb birdied three of his last four holes to climb into contention.

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