Arroyo Grande's Martin, SLO's Zakaria help each other excel

Friendly PAC 7 rivals turn in stellar seasons

nwilson@thetribunenews.comMay 19, 2013 

The names of Adam Zakaria and Mitch Martin often went hand-in-hand this high school golf season when talking about the top scorers in the county.

In fact, in their dual match, playing head-to-head at Dairy Creek Golf Course, each shot the day’s low score of 69 as Zakaria’s San Luis Obispo team went on to win the contest.

But Martin, who’s bound for Cal Poly, led his Arroyo Grande squad to a PAC 7 title with the Tigers right behind in second.

In the postseason, the Eagles won their first ever CIF-Southern Section Central Coast division championship as Martin posted another 69 at Cypress Ridge Golf Course in a 15-team tournament.

With the regular season over, Martin was the only PAC 7 golfer to advance to the second round of Northern Individual Regional with a 2-over 74 at River Ridge Golf Course in Oxnard, and he’ll compete in the individual finals today at La Purisima in Lompoc.

Zakaria and Martin, who are friendly with one another and have practiced together, helped propel each other to new heights this season, according to San Luis Obispo coach Gary Etheridge.

“Adam and Mitch pushed each other over the course of the season,” Etheridge said. “They were really competing, and both teams were competing against each other.”

Both golfers stand about 6-foot-2 and have long swing arcs that help generate club speed off the tee.

Zakaria hits his driver about 280 to 310 yards, which helped him post his top score of the year on a shorter course, a 6-under 65 at Morro Bay Golf Course in the first match of the season.

Martin is in the same range, averaging about 290 yards off the tee.

“Both have swing speeds that are above normal,” Etheridge said. “Long swing arcs help them generate more distance.”

Zakaria likely would have a guaranteed spot on a college golf team, but with a 4.6 grade-point average, he has chosen to attend Cal, which has the nation’s No. 1 team.

“I’m going to try to walk on,” Zakaria said. “You might as well throw your hat in the ring. I’m kind of hoping just to be able to clean their clubs and shoes, but you never know.”

Zakaria said that his season was less consistent than he would have liked as his scores mostly fluctuated from around the low 70-range to the 80-range without a lot of in-between.

But he was thrilled to achieve a goal of dropping his season average below 76 with a 75.93 overall mark this season.

And that’s while using a 1940s Acushnet Bull’s Eye putter that he found in his parents’ garage.

Zakaria jokes he “killed half my brain cells” with all the ammonia from a metal polish he used to remove tarnish from it.

He credits his development in golf with not only achieving success on the course but helping his outlook on life.

“Outside of my parents, golf has probably taught me as much about life as anything,” Zakaria said. “It shaped me into who I am. I used to get really mad. When I was younger, I’d have anger management problems. Now, I laugh and smile more than anyone I know.”

One of the enjoyable aspects of competitive golf is that players can chat with one another and have fun joking around on the course even during competition, Zakaria said, and that included his rounds with Martin who “had a lot of good days this year.”

“There’s a lot of congeniality with golf,” Zakaria said. “I really like that.”

For Martin, that congeniality translates into “playing relaxed,” which is the best way to play to the sport, he believes.

The lanky senior has played with several Cal Poly players the past couple of years.

Martin said that has helped him to learn about the game and prepare for college.

“All of them have been really cool, and they’ve definitely helped me to become a better golfer,” Martin said.

His private coach in Santa Barbara, Don Parsons, has also helped him to fine-tune his swing and learn to forget bad shots quickly by moving on mentally to the next swing. They meet twice per month.

Martin said his improvement has come with smarter course management, reducing the number of risky shots he takes, and getting to know local courses.

“I think I’ve improved through experience,” Martin said. “I’m pretty familiar with the local courses, and that will help me for qualifying at Cal Poly. I also think I know where to miss on the courses a lot better now.”

Martin said that the highlight of his high school career thus far was recording his 69 at to help the Eagles win the Central Coast division championship.

“I made a lot of putts inside 15 feet and I had six birdies,” Martin said. “Last year, I had just one round in the 60s. This year, I’ve had three.”

This summer, Martin said he’ll play in U.S. amateur tournaments in preparation for his career as a Mustang.

Zakaria and Martin both admire each other’s fundamentals and putting ability, and will remember the fun they had trying to outdo one another.

“We had a lot of fun,” Martin said. “A lot of the guys on our team know the guys on their team pretty well. It was going to come down to us or them that won. We were fortunate to be the favorites.”

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