The competitive fire that burns deep inside Don Martone is still in full flame and the former CPGA competitor insists that time and age have not extinguished it one bit.
Now 50 years of age, Martone still has that burning desire to be the best in the city and he takes great pride in holding onto his label as the man to beat.
He’s playing more today than he has in years and he hopes all the hard work pays dividends this coming weekend when local competitors take to the course at the Root River Open, the first local event of the season.
“Any time a tournament rolls around I get pretty pumped up for it,” said Martone. “Pride wise you always want to shoot a good number. I’m getting up there in age and everybody wants to take a crack at you so I really have to work harder on my game now.”
And that’s exactly what he’s been doing.
For the first time in 25 years, Martone purchased a membership at a local course and has spent most of the summer fine tuning his game at Crimson Ridge with the likes of Frank Kucher Jr., Lucas Bordin and Mark Disano. The four have logged a lot of serious hours and Martone admits that even during recreational play, bragging rights are always on the line.
“It’s full out,” he said. “There’s no holding back. We’re all trying to beat each others' brains in. We played a match the other day - Lucas and me against Frankie and Mark - and between the four of us, we had 22 birdies. I had seven, Lucas had eight and Mark and Frankie had seven between them. There’s a lot of chirping going on, too. We have a WhatsApp group chat and we carve each other up every day.”
Martone enjoyed his best round of the season at Crimson a week ago when he fired a 4-under-par 68 and says his increased playing time is definitely paying off.
“We’re playing two to three times a week now so the game is sharper,” he said. “The game’s pretty good. We get some money games going and we’ve all been shooting some pretty decent scores up at Crimson.”
Speaking of carving things, Martone hopes to carve his name in history this season as he guns for his eighth Labour Day Golf championship, which would eclipse the mark of seven that he now shares with Don Missere.
“That’s the goal, to get number eight,” Martone said. “I won No. 7 last year, tying Don, so obviously it would be sweet to set the record this year.”
And while he’s not physically as dominant as he once was, Martone still hits the ball with decent distance and precision. His iron game has always been his strength and he’s counting on that again this season to steer him to success.
“The iron game has always been there,” Martone said. “I bought all new equipment this year, irons, drivers to try to gain 20 yards. The three I play with are long ball hitters and I’m still the shortest guy in the group but I make up for it with my iron play.
“Even when I was on tour, I was never short, but I was never long by any means. My iron game has been solid throughout my career.”
But what separates him from so many of the current up-and-comers is experience and his ability to handle the pressure of the big moment. He has been through the wars and pressure-packed moments. He has drained the long putts and made the right decisions at so many of the critical times. He is battle tested and is now salivating at the thought of finally playing in a tournament this season.
But for as excited as Martone is, he knows that the Root River course does present challenges. It’s a shorter course and that reality alone gives so many others an opportunity to compete. He said Kucher, Disano, Bordin, Ryan Bastien, Mike Moraca, Scotty Reed and the ageless Richard Evoy, should all present formidable challenges.
“All those guys, they’re all playing in it and they all compete hard,” Martone said. “It’s a shorter course and that opens the field up to a lot of different guys. Anybody can win up there.”