Kaymer returns to Ryder Cup a different player
September 19, 2014
By Sean Martin , PGATOUR.COM
- Martin Kaymer's six-footer sealed the Ryder Cup for Europe in 2012. (Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. – Martin Kaymer couldn’t predict where his shots were headed two years ago. He qualified for the European Ryder Cup team by the slimmest margin, and played little more than the minimum at Medinah. He made the most memorable shot of Europe’s historic comeback at the last Ryder Cup, though, a 6-foot putt that atoned for his mentor’s miss and provided a flicker of light during a difficult period of his career.
Europe trailed, 10-6, at the start of the Sunday singles session at Medinah, but won the first five matches. Kaymer and Steve Stricker, playing in the day’s second-to-last match, were all square after Stricker’s par at the 15th. Kaymer won the par-3 17th with par to go 1 up, then faced a 6-footer on the last to give Europe the clinching point.
“It was very, very obvious that this putt was for the Ryder Cup,” Kaymer said. “There is no time to think. If you think, you are in the wrong frame of mind. Once you think, you’re lost.”
Kaymer’s clenched both fists and grit his teeth after the putt went in. He had known for the last three holes that he was carrying the hopes of his team and his continent. His 1-up win gave Europe its 14th point, ensuring it would retain the Cup. Europe was at risk of losing if he missed. Francesco Molinari was 1 down to Tiger Woods through 17 holes in the match behind Kaymer.
“(There was) relief, and a lot of pride,” Kaymer said. “There’s a lot of satisfaction. It’s a huge responsibility. It’s not like it was an easy putt. It was uphill, right-to-left. But because of all the circumstances, you’re very proud of the achievement.
“It's very interesting how much the Ryder Cup does to you as a person. You grow so much and a lot of people only think it's just you grow as a golf player, but I think that as a person, you learn a lot yourself.”
Kaymer, portrayed in the media as Europe’s weak link two years ago, should be one of its stalwarts in Scotland. He won both THE PLAYERS Championship and U.S. Open, this year, holding at least a share of the lead after every round in both wins. His eight-shot victory at Pinehurst No. 2 was arguably the year’s finest performance. Kaymer is No. 12 in the Official World Golf Ranking – after dipping to 61st earlier this year -- and recently qualified for his first TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola.
“I don’t need to worry about where I hit the ball,” he said recently. “Two years ago, I didn’t know if it goes left or goes right. Now I can just play golf and be aggressive and stand on the tee, knowing that I can win every game if I play my game, if I play good enough. Two years ago, it was more luck if I had a good day or not. I’m a lot more secured.”
The 2012 Ryder Cup – and the way his game withstood the pressure on the final day -- may have been an important step in his return to form.
“A lot of people think of only that putt,” Kaymer said. “I'm more proud of the last three or four holes, the way I played them. That was only one putt that I made, fair enough, it was a big putt. But the last hour, that was quite crucial.”
Kaymer’s final putt at the last Ryder Cup was similar in length and circumstance to a putt missed by countryman Bernhard Langer in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Langer’s miss on Kiawah Island’s last hole gave the United States a victory in the “War by the Shore.” Kaymer admitted that he thought briefly of Langer while lining up his putt, but quickly dismissed those thoughts.
“What I love about (the putt) is that he saw it as a gift, an opportunity. A lot of people would think, ‘The weight of the world is on my shoulders.’ But he really relished that moment," teammate Justin Rose said.
“The Ryder Cup is a sink-or-swim environment. He obviously stood up to it well. There’s no doubt that that experience gave him confidence, knowing that it doesn’t get any bigger or more pressurized than that.”
Kaymer won the limited-field Nedbank World Challenge later in 2012, his first victory in more than a year. It wasn’t an immediate return to the top, though. He didn’t win again until this year’s PLAYERS.
This will be his third Ryder Cup. He won the PGA Championship weeks before the 2010 event; he went 2-1-1 in Europe's victory at Celtic Manor. He became the world's No. 1 player in early 2011, winning twice that year (Abu Dhabi Championship, World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions). The 25-year-old with the solid ballstriking and steadfast demeanor seemed set to become a star.
Kaymer struggled with the attention that came with his newfound fame, though. He also felt he was too reliant on his trademark fade and wanted to be able to work the ball both ways, but the swing changes he underwent played a part in his struggles. He found success after returning to his natural left-to-right ball flight.
He was the last player to automatically qualify for Europe's team in 2012. He didn’t have a top-10 between April 2012 and the Johnnie Walker Championship in August, the final event to qualify for the team, and shot consecutive 79s at the PGA Championship. European captain Jose Maria Olazabal used him just once in the Ryder Cup's first four sessions.
“I played really, really bad the whole year, so it was good that I didn’t play because I wouldn’t have been helpful for the team,” Kaymer said.
Kaymer and Rose lost, 3 and 2, to Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar in a four-ball match on the tournament’s first day.
“He played very good golf but I let him down,” Kaymer said of Rose.
Kaymer didn’t let down his team when it mattered most, though. Europe may lean on him again this year, too.