GREER — Ben Martin is grateful to be back.
A back injury kept the Greenwood native out nearly six months, but the schedule aligned perfectly for a return to professional golf in Greenville, where he resides.
Martin made the most of it. He’s tied for first in the tournament after shooting an 8-under 63 in the Web.com Tour’s BMW Charity Classic at Thornblade Club in Greer.
“I really think the word I was kind of remembering today was gratitude,” Martin said. “I was just thankful to be out here and healthy just because it has been awhile since I’ve felt that way playing golf. I was just enjoying the day and enjoying the competition. I think a lot of times, when you’re enjoying the day and having fun, then that leads to some good scores.”
Martin birdied all four Par 5s and finished the round with birdies on Hole Nos. 15 and 16.
On Hole No. 2, Martin rolled in a 25-foot putt for his first birdie of the day. He said that shot was the first indication that he might have a good round, even with the unknown of time off and injury recovery.
“I was taking deep breaths all day,” Martin said. “You know, a lot of times, when you start playing well, I try not to think about what my score is, but you start feeling that pressure of being up on the leaderboard. I think when I rolled in a nice putt on No. 2, that kind of got me started ... I’ve been playing well so let’s just continue to do what I’ve been doing.”
Martin last played in the PGA Tour’s Sony Open in Hawaii. He aggravated a back injury that had previously kept him out of the tour, and spent the past few months doing physical therapy.
As he makes a comeback, Martin is taking five starts on the Web.com Tour.
“They (the PGA Tour) allow the guys coming off a medical to play five rehab events on the Web, so that will run me through the summer,” Martin said. “Hopefully all goes well, Lord willing, and will be back on the PGA Tour in September in the Fall.”
Martin said he’s had to do more pre- and post-round to physically prepare. His injury is a structural issue called retroversion.
“It’s something I will have to manage the rest of my career,” Martin said. “But now that I have all this information, I know the right rehab and fitness to do.”
Martin said he’s shot low scores in practice rounds at Thornblade and The Chanticleer in Greenville. He also had some help from his caddy, former Clemson teammate Crawford Reeves. Reeves was a freshman at Clemson when Martin was a senior.
“My full-time caddie, because I was out so long, started working for Lexi (Thompson) on the LPGA Tour, so I don’t think I’m going to have full time this summer on the Web,” Martin said. “Unfortunately, Crawford didn’t qualify for the U.S. Open on Monday, so he was available to caddie for me. He grew up here at Thornblade, so I trust him with the lines and his reads. He is a good player himself.”
Blayne Barber, Martin’s playing partner on Thursday, shot a 3-under 68 and lies tied for 44th. Barber and Martin are longtime friends.
Martin has lived in Greenville since 2011. Asked how much he feels the hometown buzz, Martin said it’s a nice atmosphere for his first tournament in months.
“It is great to sleep in your own bed, to see all of the Tiger paws out there, to see folks from Greenwood and Greenville,” Martin said. “I’ve always enjoyed playing close to home.”
For the second round, Martin will tee off from No. 10 at 7 a.m. at The Cliffs Valley in Travelers Rest. The low 60 players, including ties, make the cut after the second day. The third and fourth rounds on Saturday and Sunday will be played at Thornblade.