One who consistently rises to the challenge despite slow starts is 2013 AOY Aaron Martens. The Natural is not a fast starter. In eight Elite openers, his best finish is 26th and he scores well below average with an overall score of 56. In each of the last two seasons he's started in the 80s.
Why doesn't he start well? Martens is clearly one of the greatest talents in the sport, yet he consistently struggles in the season opener. The fact that he always puts together a strong comeback (often beginning with the second tournament of the year) is testament to his abilities. Last year he mounted a comeback for the ages. After posting an 85th-place finish at the Sabine River, he went on a tear and ended the season hoisting the AOY trophy ... his second. If he could just start with a top 12 finish, he might have even more trophies.
Rick Clunn once told me that in the early years of his career (before he won his first Classic and money was tight), desperation was his friend. Knowing he needed to earn a check just to buy gas to get home often spurred him to greater heights.
Of course, that was a different era. Sponsorships and paydays are better now (though expenses are also much greater), and Martens is a star who doesn't need to finish in the money just to make it home. Nevertheless he finds a way to use those poor starts to his advantage. I know that it makes him bear down more. Every pro angler must find ways to motivate himself or fall into lethargy, satisfaction and stasis.
But I digress.
I gave you the top 10 starters. Here are the 10 Elite pros who have averaged the worst starts:
1. B.J. Haseotes
2. Michael Simonton
3. Dave Smith
4. Jeremy Starks
5. Kurt Dove
6. Scott Ashmore
7. Byron Velvick
8. Bernie Schultz
9. Brandon Palaniuk
10. Chris Zaldain
I've shared a boat with most of those guys and can tell you from personal experience that they have excellent skills. Four have won Elite tournaments. Two have won multiple Elite events. Six have been to the Classic, but only one made it to the Classic on points last year.
These 10 have talent, but struggle in the openers. Only Dove made the cut at last year's first event, and he was 50th. All of these get better as the season goes along — some of them dramatically so — but not before digging a hole that's tough to climb out of ... especially when you're competing against the best in the business.
All of them will be looking to break through this week at Lake Seminole.