It’s a pick your spot — er, poison — sort of business, professional golf.
Ask 26-year-old Mike Martel, the talented young player we got to know better this very time two years ago. It was then that the New Ipswich resident ran roughshod over the state’s top players to win his second N.H. Amateur title, at Bretwood in Keene.
He got a good fight from Matthew Paradis in the 36-hole final, but in golf terms, his run that week on the North Course — in stroke and match play — was nothing less than dominant.
On Monday, while so many of his similarly aspiring peers were teeing off in the Vermont Open in Woodstock, Martel chose a bigger stage: the Monday qualifier for this week’s PGA Tour Travelers Championship.
At Ellington Ridge Country Club in Ellington, Conn., 70 players — Martel included — vied for four available spots in the Travelers. It was a long shot, to be sure, more than cashing in at the Vermont Open.
But Martel is now playing golf to make a living. A spot in a PGA Tour event and a made cut is worth tens of thousands of dollars, and in some cases much more.
At Woodstock, the field was chasing a piece of a $28,00 purse.
Martel didn’t play well enough Monday to qualify. Ryan McCormick, of Middletown, N.J., was the low man, shooting 6 under at the 18-hole, stroke play tournament.
Michael Miller (Brewster, N.Y, 5 under), Jim Renner (Orlando, Fla., 5 under) and Chip McDaniel (Manchester, Ky., 5 under) all qualified. Martel was not nearly good enough. He shot 1-over par 73 and finished 40th in the 51-player field.
Monday qualifying for the PGA Tour may be one of the toughest gigs in sports. For many players, it’s a shoot-the-moon proposition with the potential for a big payoff.
McCormick is a former The Web.com Tour player who will now play in his second PGA Tour event. Renner, a Boston native, tied for second with Dustin Johnson at the 2014 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, won by Jimmy Walker, who finished just one shot clear.
Such is the competition.
In his defense, Martel was coming off his highest moment as a professional, a win at last week’s Massachusetts Open, one of the top events on the New England Open circuit. His one-shot win in the 54-hole event, at Vesper CC against a deep and talented field, was good for a $15,000 winner’s check.
He had an eagle and two birdies over his closing nine holes to prevail.
Martel turned pro in January 2018. He was coming off not only the big State-Am win at Bretwood the summer before, but a record-setting runaway win in the N.H. Stroke Play at Rochester right after.
Martel shot rounds of 64 and 63 (course record) on days two and three of the four-day event, and went on to win by 10 over runner-up Damon Salo.
Martel returns to the region, and to the place he is so very comfortable, Bretwood, this week for the N.H. Open. The three-day event opens Thursday at Bretwood, moves to the Keene Country Club Friday, and back to Bretwood Saturday.
“It’s a place I’ve played a million times and like,” Martel said of Bretwood. “(In 2017), knowing that was definitely going to be my last amateur, made it nice to go out and win. I have a lot of good memories there.”
He said it was his plan all along to turn pro when he did, not that he happened to be playing so well.
“I felt then I had every aspect of my game where I need to play as a professional,” Martel said earlier this week. “I’ve learned that the little things at this level go a long way to being successful. You can’t be sloppy; you can’t give anything away or you will fall behind quickly.”
He is living in Miami. He said playing the mini tour circuit in the South has helped to keep his game sharp. But there, or at the state opens, the purses are so top-heavy that you’re need to finish in the top five to make anything meaningful in the way of winnings.
On the Minor League Golf Tour in Florida, he claimed just over $1,000 of a $7,110 purse with a tie for second at the Estates Course at PGA National. He shot 70-72, with five birdies and five bogeys.
He failed to qualify recently at the Canadian Q school, which was a setback, he said. In the fall, he’ll make a bid to qualify for the Web.com Tour, which is the true bridge to the PGA Tour, but also one of the toughest tickets in the game. It features the top up-and-coming guns in the game and many one-time PGA Tour players trying to win back their playing badges.
Martel, who was home-schooled and a four-year starter in baseball, basketball and golf at Mascenic High, said he has no specific timetable. “My goal is to try to make progress and to try to get a little better every day.”
How difficult is it to make it as a golf professional over the long run?
Consider, first, that there are more than 80 million golfers worldwide, and that 245 play on the PGA Tour. The MacKenzie Tour Martel sought his card for welcomes 212 members and the Web.com Tour that he’ll go to Q School for later this year has 1,200 applicants each year. Of those, 144 get through.
Making a living in golf “is something I will have to figure out soon if I want to do this for a while, he said, “but I have some time. Golf is a game with extreme amounts of up and down.”
You have to accept that, and fight through the touch patches, he said.
“I have time.”