Every collegiate athlete’s dream is to become a professional and to make a living doing what he or she does best. But according to the NCAA, only 1 percent of those dreams ever become reality.
That is a sobering statistic.
Martin Flores has been bucking the odds going on six years now, especially considering the former University of Oklahoma golfer never won a college tournament or even earned All-America honors.
That’s not to say Flores didn’t put together a solid college résumé ” he did. It just wasn’t punctuated with the type of accolades that might lead one to believe he’d ever make it on the PGA Tour.
And the truth is, Flores hasn’t “made it” just yet on the PGA Tour, at least not in terms of lasting success. The 28-year-old earned his full-time PGA Tour playing card this past December at Q-School after spending the previous five years grinding out a living and honing his skills on various mini-tours across the country.
So far, his rookie season on the big stage has gone better than most outsiders would have expected. But according to Flores, things are going just as planned.
“I’ve been working toward this opportunity for a long time, and I’m not satisfied with just getting my card,” said Flores, who made the cut in five of his first seven PGA Tour starts in 2010. “At this point, I’m still getting my feet wet. I’ve done some positive things, but I have high expectations for myself.”
Unlike former OU teammate and three-time All-American Anthony Kim, who took the PGA Tour by storm three years ago and already has earned star status, Flores’ road to professional success has been filled with more than a few roadblocks and potholes.
Still, he has relentlessly pursued his dreams while playing in the obscurity of the Hooters Tour, the Adams Tour and any other fledgling tour stops that might possibly serve as a springboard to the next level.
“I’ve always had confidence in my game and my abilities. And no matter how hard I struggled or how frustrating it would get at times, I never even considered giving up,” said Flores, who gave himself an early 28th birthday gift back in January by earning a $58,750 paycheck for an 18th-place finish at the Bob Hope Classic. “To me, it wasn’t a question of ‘if I was going to make it.’ It was a matter of ‘when.’ It may have taken six years to get here, but I’m definitely pleased with where I’m at, and I’m going to do everything I can to stay here.”
Although he never quite blossomed into the superstar many felt he might become while playing at OU, the Fort Worth native was a staple in the Sooners’ lineup for four seasons and twice earned the Charlie Coe Award, given annually to the team’s most valuable player. Upon finishing his business marketing degree in December 2004, Flores moved back to Texas and immediately turned pro.
“My overall experience at OU was great, and I have lots of fond memories of my time there. I found all the things you go through in college help prepare you for different situations in life, whether you are going into business or playing golf,” said Flores, who confessed that he still closely follows OU football.
He experienced some success at basically every tour level he played from 2004-09, as he crisscrossed the country driving to remote venues in Bentonville, Ark., and Conover, N.C. In 2008, he finished third on the Hooters Tour money list and followed that up with another stellar season a year later. As an encore, he earned part-time privileges on the Nationwide Tour for 2009, thanks to a solid performance at the PGA Tour Qualifying School.
“I gained valuable experience everywhere I played. The turning point for me was learning my own swing and knowing what tendencies caused me problems in the past, and how to correct those,” Flores said.
From a performance standpoint, the obvious turning point came when he won the third stage of Q-School in Dallas last November, and then a few days later, tied for fourth at the final stage, thus earning $30,000 and his full-time card in the process.
So far this year, Flores has played more like a seasoned veteran than a rookie.
“The biggest thing Martin has going for him is his mental toughness and the fact he can putt. He’s not a cocky guy, but he’s always had that swagger that you need to make it at that level,” said Kelsey Cline, Flores’ former OU teammate and current Oklahoma Christian University golf coach. “He stuck it out for several years on the mini-tours, and that shows his character and desire to make it.
“It’s a tough deal, but now that he’s made it that far, who knows how much better he can get?” “Jay C. Upchurch