With confidence growing, Kaymer focused on the task at hand at THE PLAYERS
May 08, 2014
By Brian Wacker , PGATOUR.COM
- Martin Kaymer got up-and-down from behind the ninth green for birdie to cap an opening 63. (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Thinking in golf can be overrated. It was for Martin Kaymer.
“I thought a lot the last two years about swing changes,” the former world No. 1 said. “That every shot I made I reflect on it, what I did wrong, what I did right. It's only distracting if you think too much and if you try to play perfect golf.”
He nearly did on Thursday.
In addition to tying the course record with a 63 at TPC Sawgrass, Kaymer broke the nine-hole record with a 29 to take a two-shot lead over Russell Henley in the opening round of THE PLAYERS Championship.
“I stopped thinking,” he said. “That’s pretty much the bottom line.”
Just four years ago, Kaymer was on top of the game, a major champion for the first time and early the following season the top-ranked player in the world.
But the reign lasted just eight weeks. Kaymer sought to change his swing because he could only hit a fade and soon the results would start to disappear, too.
A feel player by nature, he had become too mechanical. It was Das Beste Oder Nichts -- The Best Or Nothing -- and soon it was the latter for the German.
“When you change, you have to think automatically,” he said. “You need to reflect and you want to improve, you want to get to the goal a lot earlier, and then sometimes you can get caught up in the thinking process. So you need to go back where you came from, and that's just -- it's feel, it's your natural shot. It's the fade, so it is my shot, accept it.”
He also struggled accepting his newfound celebrity status and the demands that go with being a major champion and No. 1 in the world, a position he was admittedly unequipped to handle.
“The first year I wasted a little bit I would say because I was distracted by too much what was going on off the golf course,” Kaymer said. “I didn't have enough energy to really focus on the main thing because I was doing a lot of other things, which was OK afterwards because then it was just part of the whole process.”
Kaymer hasn’t won since the HSBC Champions at the end of 2011 and by late 2012 was outside the top 30 and soon the top 40 and 50. He came into this week ranked 61st in the Official World Golf Ranking.
“I just told him he needs to be patient,” fellow German and friend Bernhard Langer said via cell phone Thursday night. “Confidence breeds winning and winning breeds confidence.”
That confidence has started to grow in recent weeks and Kaymer’s game has come around of late.
Martin Kaymer interview after Round 1 of THE PLAYERS
A few weeks prior to the Masters, he spent time with longtime swing coach Gunter Kessler in Phoenix. The two then had another good session in Germany.
“It just clicked a little bit,” Kaymer said. “I thought, ‘OK, I know I can hit pretty much every shot when I needed to hit it.’ If it’s a draw, if it’s a fade, low or high, I know that I can do it. It’s just a matter of getting the confidence on the golf course and then letting it happen and really doing it.”
He also got more words of encouragement from Langer following a tie for 18th at last week’s Wells Fargo Championship.
“I texted him that he played great the first three rounds and to just be patient with the weeks to come,” Langer said. “Things will go your way.”
They certainly did Thursday.
Kaymer missed just two fairways and one green in regulation on his way to making nine birdies, the last of which came on the par-5 ninth, where his approach shot ran through the green and into a bunker, leaving him an easy up-and-down.
But Kaymer’s road back has been too long and he has worked too hard to think too much about how well he played Thursday.
“I didn't make many mistakes,” he said. “It was just a very, very good round of golf.
“We shouldn't talk too much into that round ... only a quarter of the tournament happened today.”