After a somewhat unusual and unsatisfying conclusion to his semifinal victory Monday morning in the Georgian PGA Match Play Championship, Justin Martin produced a much more dramatic finish in the championship match in the afternoon.
Martin, the Director of Golf at the First Tee of Atlanta, won three of the last four holes, including his second eagle of the day at the par-5 16th, and wrapped up his first ever victory as a professional, defeating Peter Jones of Cherokee Town & CC 2-up in the title match at Peachtree GC.
In the semifinals, Martin faced veteran tour player Sonny Skinner, a former Match Play champion and at No. 4 the highest seed among the four semifinalists. Just as he did in the finals, Martin won three of the last four holes beginning with a birdie at the 13th and concluding with an eagle at the 16th to go from all square after 12 holes to 2-up after 16.
Trailing 2-down with two holes to play, Skinner conceded the match so he could make his tee time that afternoon for the first round of a Senior Division tournament at the Orchard, at least a 90-minute drive away in Clarkesville.
Martin, who was credited with a 3&1 victory over Skinner, was surprised by Skinner’s decision, but said after his afternoon victory, “I was not going to argue with him.”
Even though he lost his semifinal match, Skinner emerged as a winner on the day along with Martin, who did Skinner a huge favor when he defeated Jones for the title.
Skinner began the day in second place in the Georgia PGA Player of the Year standings with Jones third. Paul Claxton, like Skinner a veteran tour player, was the leader at the outset of the day, but did not compete in the Match Play event and was going to lose his spot at the top regardless of the outcome of Monday’s matches.
By reaching the semifinals, Skinner moved ahead of Claxton with 4837.5 points to 4790 for Claxton. Jones also passed Claxton by reaching the finals with a 2&1 victory over David Potts of CC of the South, and would have taken a sizeable lead had he won the championship match. Instead, he is just ahead of Claxton in second with 4793.75 points. The three will decide Player of the Year honors next month at Barnsley Gardens in the Georgia PGA’s qualifier for the national club pro championship.
Martin moved into a tie for fourth in the standings, but is well behind the three Player of the Year contenders on the points list.
It was an emotional victory for the 32-year-old Martin, the Director of Golf at Atlanta’s First Tee for the past 2 ½ years. After he holed his winning birdie putt on the 18th green to defeat Jones, he bent over and placed his hands around his head, remaining in that position as he reflected on his triumph.
“This is my fist pro win of any type. I can’t describe it,” Martin offered. “They say that it’s harder to win at match play than stroke play. You have to bring it every single time.”
Martin, who was seeded eighth in the 64-player field, did not have the toughest path to the finals among the four semifinalists. The highest seeded player he faced was No. 17 Shawn Koch, the Director of Instruction at CC of the South, who he defeated 3&2 in the quarterfinals. Koch had knocked off top-seeded Kyle Owen of Dunwoody CC in the previous round.
But in his final two matches, Martin faced the two highest-seeded players left in the tournament, with both strong contenders for Player of the Year. He was either tied or trailing on the back nine in both matches, but produced some late heroics in both to pull out the victories.
Martin also provided plenty of fireworks on the front nine in his title match against Jones. He birdied four of the last six holes on the nine to take a 2-up lead at the turn before Jones won three of the next four to lead 1-up after 13.
Jones took an early 1-up lead with an up-and-down birdie at the par-5 second, but Martin responded with a tee shot just over the flag at the par-3 fourth followed by a nice birdie putt. Both players, among the longest hitters in the Georgia Section, reached the par-5 fifth in two, but Jones three-putted and Martin went 1-up with a birdie.
Martin returned the favor with a three-putt at the par-3 sixth, with Jones saving par from below of the green with a well executed up-and-down to square the match.
The par-4 seventh was halved with bogeys after a pair of errant tee shots, with Martin going back on top when he holed a long, downhill birdie putt at the par-4 eighth and followed with another birdie putt of length at the ninth.
“When I play good, I make putts,” Martin explained. “I love the greens out here. They’re perfect. If you get putts rolling on line, they go in.”
Jones came back with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 10th while Martin settled for par after his second shot came up short in a greenside bunker. When Martin missed the green at the par-4 12th and made bogey, his lead was gone, and he fell one down when Jones birdied the par-4 13th after a big drive and his lone birdie of the day other than the par 5s.
Martin holed a testy par putt after Jones missed a birdie opportunity on the par-3 14th, and the match went back to all square when Jones bogeyed the 15th after driving into the right trees and having to play a low punch shot that ran over the green into the rough.
After Jones’ second shot to the par-5 16th sailed right of the green, Martin fired his second shot from 190 yards to within about four feet of the cup. A superb pitch by Jones gave him a birdie, but Martin holed his short eagle putt to regain the lead.
“Sixteen was good to me today,” Martin said. “I had a similar shot this morning and hit one tight to close out the match. I had good vibes on the shot.”
Jones had a chance to pull even at 17, but could not convert a decent birdie opportunity, sending the match to 18 with Martin 1-up. Jones hit an excellent second shot inside 10 feet on the par-4, with Martin a little outside that range.
Needing to hole his putt to deny Jones a chance to send the match to extra holes, Martin rolled it in for his fifth birdie of the round to go with his second eagle of the day on 16.
“He played too good,’ Jones said of Martin. “I thought I had him there.”
Jones took some solace in the quality of his own play, as both players were several shots under par for the day.
“There were a few putts I could have made,” Jones said. “But I played pretty well, actually. He made a couple of long ones and I didn’t.”
It was just the second appearance in the Match Play Championship for both players, with both eliminated early in their first starts by two of the Section’s top players.
Jones, who was recently elevated to the position of Director of Instruction at Cherokee Town & CC, was the sixth seed and won several tight matches to reach the semifinals, including a 1-up win over Towne Lake Hills’ Bill Murchison in the semifinals.
Potts led 1-up after 12 holes in a back-and-forth semifinal match, with the 13th halved with bogeys. A Potts bogey at the 14th squared the match, and Jones carded birdies on 15 and 16 to take a 2-up lead before closing out the match at the 17th. He did not lead in the match until the 15th hole.
Skinner and Potts are former Match Play champions, with both winning when the tournament was played at one site. Skinner won in 2006 at Callaway Gardens and Potts won in 2010 at the UGA course. Skinner rolled into the semifinals, with his closest match a 3&1 victory in the quarterfinals over fifth-seeded Todd Ormsby of Highland CC.
Potts, an instructor at CC of the South, was seeded 15th in the tournament and beat three former tournament champions to make it to the semifinals. He defeated defending champion Donn Perno, the head pro at Peachtree GC who also won the event in 2013, 4&3 in the second round, knocked off second-seeded Tim Weinhart of Heritage Golf Links on the 19th hole in the third round, and got past former champion and seventh-seeded Craig Stevens of Woodmont 3&2 in the quarterfinals.
Peachtree was the site of the semifinals and finals for a fifth straight year, and was again an outstanding host, with the course in its usual pristine condition wall to wall.