Obscure golfer breaks through his PGA Tour nightmare

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Martin Trainer did not win the Genesis Invitational Sunday.

Adam Scott did.

But Trainer was a winner this week at Riviera.

You’ve probably never heard of Trainer. Why would you?

He doesn’t run in the same private-jet circles as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, and he’s not Instagramming from exotic vacations with the cool kids like Rickie, Jordan and JT.

But, if you’re a golfer who’s struggled so mightily with your game that you wondered if you’d ever hit the ball straight again, you relate to Trainer. You relate deeply.

Sure, he’s a professional golfer with his PGA Tour card and playing status that runs through next season. He even has a win on his résumé — at the Puerto Rico Open in just his ninth start as a PGA Tour member, a title he’s set to defend this week.

Yet a look at Trainer’s results since that breakthrough victory in Puerto Rico leaves you to wonder how he possibly won a PGA Tour event — let alone an amateur tournament at his local muni.

The fall of Trainer’s game to a pitch-black abyss since his win in Puerto Rico has been astonishing. After his win, Trainer had 16 starts to end the season and missed 12 cuts, withdrew once and had a top finish of a tie for 41st at the Players Championship. His final 11 starts of last season included 10 missed cuts and one withdrawal.

Entering this past week’s Genesis Invitational, Trainer missed the cut in all 10 of his starts this season. So, he went 21 of 22 starts either missing the cut or withdrawing.

He finished tied for 47th at 1-over par Sunday after closing with a 3-over-par 74. But that doesn’t mean Trainer wasn’t victorious. Simply making the cut was like hoisting a trophy for him. He made the cut on the number Friday — at 1-over-par — by sinking a 5-foot bogey putt on 18 to earn the right to play on the weekend for the first time since last April.

“I was joking with my friends that we should have a party, because I hadn’t made a cut in so long,’’ Trainer said. “It’s been a long 10 months of struggling.’’

Low points? He’s had more than a few.

“Rock bottom was in Reno,’’ Trainer said of the 2019 Barracuda Championship. “Thank goodness it was Stableford scoring [a points system instead of strokes], because I would have shot 110. There were four or five holes where I hit like two balls into the woods and I was like, ‘OK, I’ll take my double-bogey maximum.’ ’’

In the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, where the previous year’s tournament winners convene in January for a gravy-train week with a short field and no cut, Trainer finished dead last at 18-over par, eight shots worse than the second-to-last-place finisher and 32 shots behind winner Justin Thomas.

At the American Express in Palm Springs, he shot 14-over par and missed the cut by 23 shots.

In Phoenix a few weeks ago, he finished 10-over par and missed the cut by 11 shots.

In Houston, he finished 14-over par and missed the cut by 14 shots.

You look at these astonishing numbers and it’s as if one of the amateurs from the pro-am snuck into the field.

“I was hitting 7-irons 40 yards right of the target,’’ Trainer said. “You can’t compete hitting it like that. There would be tournaments where it was very clear very quickly that I had almost no chance to make the cut. I’m just happy to be hitting the ball straight again.’’

But how?

In December, Trainer began working with swing coach Jeff Smith, who also works with Patrick Rodgers and Scott Piercy, and Smith figured out a way to stop Trainer from hitting every iron 20 yards to the right.

“I figured I’d topped out at my peak being extremely inconsistent and occasionally very good,’’ Trainer said.

Trainer reached the sobering reality that the win in Puerto Rico and two wins on the Korn Ferry Tour the year before were mere mirages.

“My mechanics were teetering on the edge of barely playable,’’ he said.

Trainer described his epic slide as “miserable.’’

“You win a tournament and then after a while you find yourself saying, ‘I think I can play golf,’ but it’s like you almost stop believing that you can … even though you did,’’ he said. “It’s the kind of thing where you know it’s there somewhere. You just have to find it.’’

For the sake of Trainer’s sanity, hopefully he found it at Riviera. Success is fleeting on the PGA Tour. Sure, it’s been a rough year him, but right now — right this minute — Trainer is a success again. And just in time as he returns to the place of his greatest triumph.

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