Partner Up, with Team Martinez

Zeke Martinez plays an aggravating style of golf, if you listen to the good-natured chiding he gets from his own brother, Mario. And it has nothing to do with the fact that Zeke tees it up as a left-hander, and no more than 10 minutes later is switching to hit as a righty.

“He’s made it work,” Mario says. “But, he plays old-man golf. He hits it 200 yards down there off the tee. He might hit his second shot 150 yards, somewhere short of the green.”

Mario Martinez (left) and his brother Zeke form one of the more successful partnerships on San Antonio golf courses.

Mario Martinez (left) and his brother Zeke form one of the more successful partnerships on San Antonio golf courses.

In the end, the aggravation sometimes comes at someone else’s expense, because the Martinez brothers have made one of the best teams on the Alamo City Golf Trail Tour the past two years.

The Martinez brothers have have either won or finished second in divisions of all three of the team events the ACGT has offered this season.

With that sort of record, no one will take them lightly anymore, no matter what Zeke’s lefty-then-righty, short-off-the-tee game looks like when he’s chipping onto another green.

“People think he’s out of (contention on) the hole,” Mario said. “Everybody thinks he’s in trouble, and then he chips one in or makes a long putt. They don’t know what hit them.”

Mario, 40, is the lower handicapper of the two, coming in at single digits. His usual length off the tee consistently pushes past 270 yards, setting him up for a reasonable shot into the green. When other players see that, they can at first get the feeling Mario has a strong back — he’ll figuratively put his brother on his shoulders in team events.

“They think they’re playing me,’ Mario said, “but it turns out Zeke carries us a lot of the time.”

There is a method to Zeke’s decisions on when to go right or left. A peek into his golf bag, particularly at his wedges, gives it away.

He drives and hits into the green as a lefty. He chips and putts from the right side.

“As if this game isn’t hard enough,” Zeke said.

His story of coming to an ambidextrous game has none of the intrigue of Titanic Thompson, that real-life character who often seemed to show up in the writing of late San Antonio Express-News columnist and KENS-TV sportscaster Dan Cook.

In a biography of Thompson written by Kevin Cook (no relation to Dan) entitled The Man Who Bet on Everything, Thompson is reported to have defeated golfers playing right-handed, then offered them double-or-nothing and hustling them into taking the bet when he said he’d play left-handed.

News traveled slowly in the 1920s and ’30s, and Thompson continued pulling off the hustle. But when Thompson met a young right-handed golfer out of West Virginia who offered three strokes while he played left-handed against Thompson, it didn’t take long for Thompson to respond: “No thanks. I’ve heard of that one.” Good thing. The young golfer turned out to be Sam Snead, easily the most athletic player of his day.

Thompson’s dominant side was his left. Zeke Martinez’s is right.

“But when I first started playing, I couldn’t do anything right-handed,” Zeke said. “I was whiffing it. I even have a much better swing right-handed. But I’m more comfortable left-handed.”

Zeke, 47, is on the training staff for a national restaurant chain, and he has an enthusiasm for the game that is easy to notice. When he took up golf with other family members more than 15 years ago, Mario noticed and gave it a try after about a year of hearing Zeke rave about it.

It took a while, but sibling rivalry spurred Mario on to a more than adequate game.

“I absolutely hated it at first,” Mario said. “I told them, ‘I can’t believe you do this for pleasure.’ But I became obsessed to beat them, and, somewhere, I hit a couple of good golf shots and I fell in love with it.”

Mario, who has an ownership interest in a computer network company, admits that a competitive passion can get to him on the golf course. So, Zeke’s putting is not the only place where Mario looks for help.

“He’s a calming influence for me,” Mario said. “He knows when I’m about to blow a gasket, and he keeps me in check.

“And we help each other. I know his swing better than he knows it himself. I can give him a swing thought that can help him fairly quickly.”

It helps in an alternate-shot format when Mario missiles a drive out there close enough that Zeke can get one of those right-handed wedges in his hands. Mario likes the response from his brother:

“It’s always, ‘Wow, so this is what it feels like to be inside 100 yard on your approach.'”

It’s a good feeling. But to play right and left-handed? That’s a hard feeling to capture.


About longlostgolfer

This is the correspondent in San Antonio.
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