May 13, 2010

By Carl Kotala
Special to

HOWIE-IN-THE-HILLS, Fla. -- One more round.

That's all that is left in the college career of one of -- if not the -- most accomplished women's golfers in NCAA Division III history.

The thought crossed Susan Martin's mind about midway through Thursday's third round of the NCAA Division III national championship tournament at the Mission Inn Resort. It will probably hit the Methodist University (Fayetteville, NC) senior a few more times before she walks off the course Friday.

"I'm going to have to work really hard not to think about it," she said.

Maintaining her habit of thinking about songs from a mixed CD the team put together before coming to the nationals will be a comfort. So will the knowledge she can help her teammates bring home their 13th consecutive NCAA championship.

And what better way to walk off a golf course than to know you finished strong, and at a place that has a special meaning.

"It's pretty nice to do it here at the Mission Inn, where I started my career at nationals," Martin said. "It brings back a lot of memories. I'll probably be pretty emotional tomorrow."

She won't be the only one.

In her four years at Methodist, Martin has won the Freshman of Year award, back-to-back NCAA individual championships and on Wednesday night, the National Golf Coaches Association named her the PING NGCA Division III Player of the Year at an awards banquet. Oh yeah, and on top of all that, she's been part of three national team championships and is well on her way to a fourth.

"Unforgettable," Martin said of her college career. "I never expected to even make the team freshman year, let alone get to play nationals and get Freshman of the Year. I'm going to look back on it and think, 'How did I even do all that?'

"It's just been an honor to play for the Methodist program, under two coaches. I got to play with some great girls along the way, too."

Those girls certainly rallied around Martin following Wednesday's second round, when her dreams of becoming the first player to win three consecutive individual championships came to an end. After signing her scorecard, Martin realized she should have taken a 7 on the 10th hole instead of the 6. She reported the error to her coach, Tom Inczauskis, who went to NCAA officials and Martin was disqualified for the day.

That meant no individual national title, no chance to become an All-American.

"It was pretty hard," Martin said. "I worked hard all year to come here and try and win it, and you see it go away in five minutes. I'm glad we still have the team aspect and we can still win as a team, so that's my main goal right now.

"It will hurt for a long time, but ... it was definitely a learning experience."

The Monarchs responded Thursday by shooting a tournament low 315 to increase what had been a one-shot lead to 20 going into the final round. Martin, playing in the No. 5 spot for maybe the first time in her career, led Methodist with a 78.

"Words can't even describe (what she means to the program) be honest with you," Methodist junior Paige Caldwell said. "She's a role model for a lot of us. Getting Freshman of the Year to Player of the Year and ... if what happened (Wednesday), her getting disqualified and her admitting it, if that's not above and beyond a great person, I don't know what is.

"She's a great player, great teammate, great friend. I'm getting teary-eyed talking about it. I'm sad she's leaving."

Inczauskis, who is in his first season as head coach after taking over for Vicki Pate, couldn't have asked for a better player to not only lead his team, but pass on the traditions of the Methodist program.

After finishing an internship, Martin plans to give the Futures Tour a shot. But no matter what happens Friday, or down the road, she will leave a legacy that will live with the Monarchs for years to come.

"She's had an incredible career," Inczauskis said. "To think that you have the No. 1 player out of 169 Division III programs here at a small, little private school in North Carolina ... amazing. She could have been a top player at a lot of Division I schools. It's been a gift."