Watching Martin Kaymer sail his wedge shot into the water on the 72nd hole of the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions on Nov. 9 might oblige one to wonder how he was able to dismiss a world-class field by an unfathomable eight strokes, as he did in June at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst Resort’s No. 2 Course.
Well, first of all, that’s the unpredictable, unforgivable nature of golf, isn’t it? Secondly, such a surprising misstep only invited a deeper level of appreciation for the excellence Kaymer displayed in the 114th U.S. Open.
Winless since that magical week in the North Carolina Sandhills, Kaymer needed a birdie on the par-5 home hole at Sheshan International Golf Club to join Bubba Watson and Tim Clark in a sudden-death playoff in the season’s first WGC event. Instead, the first player to capture The Players and the U.S. Open a month apart – and to win both in wire-to-wire fashion – struck an uncharacteristically indifferent approach and suffered a double bogey that left him tied for sixth.
“Obviously, I didn’t play the shot as well as I wanted,” the 29-year-old from Dusseldorf, Germany, said after just his second top-10 finish in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event since claiming his second major championship. “Still, I take a lot of positives out of the week. I feel like my game is back on track.”
Back on track? If it’s the track he was riding in June, his peers are in for further feelings of helplessness and wonder similar to what they encountered at Pinehurst.
Interestingly, how he got off track was a product of his own making. Apparently, the former world No. 1 had it in his mind to, um, avoid the mistake he made in 2010 after winning the PGA Championship in a playoff over Watson at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis.
“I did it a little bit different [than] in 2010,” Kaymer explained. “I tried to enjoy the win [at Pinehurst]. I didn’t really enjoy the win in 2010. I just kept going and going and going. And I kept winning … on the European Tour, we won the Ryder Cup, and then I won the Alfred Dunhill. Sure, that was nice, but I didn’t enjoy the nature of it. I said to myself this year, I want to play as well as I can, of course, but I didn’t practice as much. I just wanted to enjoy the success I had. I still played good golf [after the U.S. Open], but I just had too little practice to compete properly.”
Thanks to a pair of opening 5-under-par 65s to set the U.S. Open 36-hole scoring record, Kaymer constructed an insurmountable lead at Pinehurst No. 2 and went on to post a 9-under total of 271. Americans Rickie Fowler and Erik Compton, at 1-under 279, were the only other players who broke par.
Kaymer, who capped his victory with a symbolic 15-foot par putt on the 72nd hole, became the seventh man in championship history to win wire to wire.
The result was shocking, mostly because Kaymer wasn’t all that enamored with the setup he encountered upon first glance.
“On Tuesday and Wednesday, I didn’t like the golf course at all,” he said. “It was so firm and dry … it was just hit the middle of the green, middle of the green, middle of the green was all you could do. Then they put a little bit of water on the course before the first round and it made it playable, and then I really fell in love with the golf course.
“Of course, I surprised myself with 65 in the first two rounds. Never expected that. It won me the tournament,” he added. “The key for me was simply using my putter as much as I could from off the green, and then I made almost all the putts I had inside 10 feet. I felt really comfortable from that distance. That’s why I putted from off the green, because I felt I could get those putts inside 10 feet and then have a chance to save par. I made probably 85 percent of them.”
Kaymer, who will defend his title next June at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash. – a course he has never seen – naturally approved of the test that Pinehurst provided, but he did so while taking a step back to look at the bigger picture.
“I think it was great to play a really different kind of U.S. Open once in a while,” he said. “Usually, it’s tight with thick rough. Therefore, I think it was very interesting for everyone. You could play different kinds of shots, different styles. It didn’t suit anyone specifically. I was fortunate enough to win it.”
The Pinehurst experiment included not only presenting a championship layout void of rough –Course No. 2 featured sandy natural areas adjacent to firm, fast fairways – but also the novel concept of hosting the U.S. Women’s Open on the same course the following week. On virtually the same setup, save for adjustments to hole locations and yardage, Michelle Wie won her first major title, shooting 2-under 278 to defeat Stacy Lewis by two strokes.
Kaymer was long gone by then.
“I didn’t want to talk [about] or see any golf after Pinehurst. I went to New York because the World Cup started and Germany played on Monday against Portugal,” Kaymer recalled. “So it was Sergio [Garcia], Adam [Scott] and I, we all met at a beer garden in New York and we watched the first game together, and then I stayed a couple of extra days, and then went home to Germany to play in the BMW Open in my hometown.”
Perhaps his biggest challenge after winning the U.S. Open was signing championship flags that Wie also signed. He laughed while explaining: “Always, there are flags to sign, one flag together women and men, and there was her massive signature,” Kaymer said, using his hands and inflection in his voice for emphasis. “It was so big on there. I look for ‘M. Wie’ – that would be enough – but she was all over the place. There was no room for me.”
Now ranked No. 12 in the world, Kaymer said there is plenty of room for more major trophies on his mantel, but he didn’t want to speculate. He exhaled deeply just thinking about the challenge of trying to win another one.
Nor has he really begun to look ahead to Chambers Bay, a links-style course with fescue greens.
“Majors? That’s a big call. Very tough to win one, let alone, say, all four,” he said with a bit of wonder in his voice. “To win all four, it’s more than a career goal. Obviously, Rory [McIlroy] is close; he only needs the Masters. For me, I always thought my best chance was The Open Championship. Next year is at [the Old Course at] St. Andrews, my favorite golf course. To win there, winning a third major would be tough enough. I just look forward to the opportunity. And then Whistling Straits is my favorite American course, and to go back there where I won the PGA will be special.
“I know nothing about Chambers Bay. I know it’s on the West Coast. That’s all. I am just concentrating on the rest of this year, and then after that I get ready for the Masters. Around May, I will go to Chambers Bay and start to get ready and try and learn the golf course. I have a place in Phoenix, so it won’t be too long of a trip.”
Kaymer takes great interest in women’s golf, and he approved of the back-to-back Opens.
Furthermore, the 2015 Solheim Cup is being held in Germany, an event he’ll be watching closely, though he likely won’t be able to attend, with its dates opposite the PGA Tour’s third playoff event, the BMW Championship.
The 14th edition of the biennial team match-play competition pitting 12 of the top American women against Europe, is slated for Sept. 18-20 at Golf Club St. Leon-Rot in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany.
The best German player since two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer, Kaymer views the Solheim Cup as monumentally important, especially for the growth of golf in his home country. He and Sandra Gal, one of the game’s top female players who also hails from Dusseldorf, carry the banner of golf for their country, but it will take more support before Germany starts producing a steady stream of top players.
Here, Kaymer shows his modesty, as well as his big-picture awareness for golf.
“It was a huge thing for us that we got the Solheim Cup for next year. It’s a first big step,” he said. “If that goes well, I think we have a chance to get the Ryder Cup in 2022. If we get those two events in six years, and hopefully I can keep up this success … and hopefully Europe wins in Germany next year … all those things going together will help build interest in golf in Germany.
“You know, when I won the PGA in 2010, and then I had the winning putt in the Ryder Cup in 2012, that brought golf into the newspapers for the first time in a very long time. I’m not a celebrity in Germany, but people got to know my name more. That’s nice, not for myself, but just for the game of golf. All these things help bring more attention to golf and could help the game there. I am very hopeful that that happens.”
And if it does, could he stand more competition from home?
“Of course,” he said with a grin. “More good players? That would be very good for the game.”
Especially if there are more good players like Martin Kaymer.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work appears frequently on USGA websites.