Interview: Martin Kaymer

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When you meet him in person, Martin Kaymer doesn’t really come across as the ruthless type. A humble, unassuming man who felt uncomfortable when the glare of the World No.1 spotlight was fixed upon him, Kaymer’s is nevertheless a name that fills rivals with dread when it appears at the top of a leaderboard.

Put simply, if Martin Kaymer plays his way into the lead then he wins; more often than not by a comfortable margin. Wire-to-wire victories are rare in golf because they’re so difficult to pull off. For most players, having the lead is like a weight around the neck. Far better to hide in the pack, escape the pressure, and make your move late on. But out front is where Kaymer loves to be. Once he gets in front, he very seldom comes back to the pack. Be it Abu Dhabi, Sawgrass or Pinehurst, the 29-year-old German is the consummate frontrunner.

After a couple of years in a downward spiral that began almost as soon as he became the world’s top-ranked player in 2011, Kaymer has regained his form in spectacular fashion. A dramatic victory at the Players Championship was followed by one of the all-time great Major performances, when he won the US Open at Pinehurst by eight shots. The man who struck the Ryder Cup-winning putt at Medinah two years ago was also instrumental for Europe at Gleneagles. In this exclusive interview, Kaymer looks back on an incredible year, and shows you how to play the chip that downed Bubba Watson in the Sunday Singles.

Kaymer

Winning The Players was stressful because once I got a good lead, I could only lose the tournament. In that play-off for the US PGA Championship [in 2010] there was a 50/50 chance. But when you lead The Players by three shots, the only thing you can do from there is screw it up. Then, when I’m on the 13th tee, they call a rain delay. I was very proud of how I managed that situation on the last three holes. After the double-bogey on 15, it was very difficult to come back. I thought I was done for the day, so to go back into that extreme situation, and find a way to win, was pretty cool.

That par putt on 17 at Sawgrass was probably the best I’ve ever made. My tee shot was nearly perfect; if it’s maybe a foot further it ends up close to the hole. But then again, I was lucky it stayed out of the water. The chip was very difficult, but I must say it was very fortunate that the putt dropped. It was important that the tournament was still in my hands. It would have been tough to bogey there, but I would still have had a chance on 18. I didn’t do a lot wrong, besides 15. I was still playing well.

Playing so well at Pinehurst over the first two days of the US Open came as a surprise. I didn’t make any mistakes at all. I literally placed every shot where my caddie and I discussed. I made a lot of those crucial putts from five to eight feet to save par, which makes a big difference at a US Open. Then all of a sudden, I had a seven-shot lead. Similarly to the Players, I could only lose the tournament from that position. So you have to find a way to get away from what happened on the first two days.

On Saturday I played the front nine in one over, which is OK for a US Open, but then you compare it to the first two days, when I was two or three under. You can’t get drawn into doing that. On Sunday, my thought process was simply ‘how low can I play the US Open? I knew it was unlikely that I would shoot four or five over, so instead of focusing on the others, I chose to focus on keeping playing well – and seeing how low I could play the toughest Major.

Kaymer

It’s very rare that you lead a Major by more than five shots. I think only Rory [McIlroy], Louis [Oosthuizen] and Tiger have done it in the last 15 years or so. When you have that big of a lead, the first five or six holes on Sunday are crucial. If you make a bogey that’s fine, but you have to keep making sure you hit solid shots. I used that to gain a lot of confidence. After I got through the first five holes, I knew that as long as I stayed in control of my game, I would be OK. 

Why do some guys struggle with the lead? I think it’s the burden of expectation. They expect themselves to win and they are scared of failing. It’s easy to become distracted by what’s being said and written, but to win a tournament, you need to remain extremely focused on each shot. I think that a lot of athletes, not just in golf, are afraid of winning. It’s an uncomfortable situation. If someone is in contention for the first time, they don’t know how their body will feel during the last few holes of a tournament. 

Talking of being scared to win, the first time I won the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship is a great example of that. On Sunday I didn’t know what to do. Halfway through the back nine, my mind was wandering to my speech! I was leading by four or five shots, and I almost blew it with a combination of bad shots and a bad mind set. Luckily, no one put too much pressure on me and I was able to leave a lot of putts short just to make par. I learned a lot from that.

How you would deal with screwing up a tournament from a winning position is important in being able to win as a frontrunner. Will you learn from what happened and analyse how to change it? For me, to play the Ryder Cup has been a huge help in handling myself in those tough situations, because the emotions you experience that week are at another level.

When you’re playing a Major you do have support, but if you end up letting your fans down, it’s just a shame. But at the Ryder Cup they feel pain, and that’s the difference. The importance at the Ryder Cup is a lot higher for them, and we feel that. It’s very difficult to compare, but basically the Majors are egocentric; it’s you and your caddie. And really that’s how you have to approach Sunday at the Ryder Cup.

Kaymer

In the Sunday singles at Gleneagles, the momentum was with the Americans for the first nine holes or so. But on Saturday evening, we had all sat in the team room and emphasised that it wasn’t important what the other guys do in the singles. We needed to make sure we took care of our own point. If everybody carried that attitude, we were going to be fine. I can’t look at Graeme McDowell being three down after nine holes. I can’t do anything about that. But if I put my blue on the board maybe it helps others.

Which would I choose between Medinah and Gleneagles? Well, Medinah was a big gift. There was a lot of luck involved to get me into that situation where I could make the all-important point for Europe. I will always be thankful for getting that opportunity. The way I was playing at the time, there was a lot of negative stuff. Then all of a sudden, you have the absolute ultimate – nothing is bigger than that. I see it as a privilege. But Gleneagles was pure fun. Everything about this Ryder Cup was amazing, from the team to the captain and his vice captains, everything was so well organised with great characters. We all knew what we had to do. The fans in Scotland were incredible. There was passionate support, but not in a pressurised way. The mood was fun, and I have to say it was the best Ryder Cup I’ve ever played in. In 2010 I was overwhelmed by everything. In 2012, I didn’t play well. This one was the best yet.

Paul McGinley figured out each individual character in the team room and took time to understand how they feel, who they wanted to play with, how many matches they wanted to play. An outsider might say he ‘over-managed’, but it didn’t feel like that to us. He gave us a lot of freedom to make our own choices. I think Paul did a brilliant job to draw that fine line between allowing us to be individuals and managing us as a team.

We had an even stronger spirit than in 2012, because everybody was more secure with the success we’d had. Two years ago, the Americans were the favourites and this time, we accepted that role of favourites, because there was a reason for it. Sir Alex Ferguson told us that. Don’t be scared of being the favourites; use it to your advantage because you’ve earned it and you deserve it. That’s exactly what he said to his players at Manchester United.

Kaymer

The choice for Europe’s next captain is not difficult. Darren Clarke is the next in line and right now, I don’t see anyone else. I really think he should do it. Thomas Bjørn is too young. Miguel Angel Jimenez was still very close to qualifying this year. So Darren is the obvious candidate.

The year Rory McIlroy has had is just incredible. It’s tough to explain to people how difficult it is to go from one tournament to another and continue to put in 100 per cent and be fully on your game. It was interesting to see at the Ryder Cup the way he embraces the fans. He has a celebrity status now that he uses in a positive way on the golf course. For me, that type of position was more difficult to deal with. I admire Rory a lot for being able to deal with everything that goes on. He plays golf very aggressively, and if you drive the ball that long and that straight, and have a short game that he has, there’s not a whole lot that can go wrong.

I’m not too caught up with being World No.1 any more. For me, it’s just about Majors – I want to win as many as possible. The same for World Golf Championship events. If that takes me back to World No.1 then fine, but right now Rory is the best player in the world and he deserves to be up there. 

Winning Olympic Gold would be bigger than a Green Jacket or a Claret Jug. Why? Because it’s bigger, and it’s for your country. You can compare it to the Ryder Cup. If you win a Major, it’s only for yourself, your caddie and the people close to you. But the Olympic Games is for all the other athletes, and your entire country. Just to carry the German flag for that opening ceremony would be an unbelievable experience. And with golf, it’s the first one in 100 years, which makes it even more special. I would love to be the first player to win an Olympic Gold in golf since it was reintroduced.

Getting more Germans into golf is a big project. I don’t know when they’re going to decide if we’re going to get the 2022 Ryder Cup or not, but let’s say we do, I think we can use that and the Olympic Games in tandem. It’d certainly be a bigger platform. Look at France, it’s a smaller country than Germany in terms of golf, but what they do in terms of tournaments is very impressive. I think quite a few Germans were tuned into Gleneagles, and saw the success that Europe had. Also, I understand my chip-in got a fair bit of coverage. Germans have gained a better sense and understanding of what the Ryder Cup is all about. Now it’s important that we continue and keep up that message, that golf is fun. There were a lot of Germans at Gleneagles, and I’ve never really seen them being so outgoing. In football it’s a lot easier, 55 million people rooting for Germany – it’s different. We need to make Germans realise that golf can be accessible too.

We are ready to host a Ryder Cup in Germany. We’re trying to get it in 2022 and I think we have a very strong case. We will make sure that it will be as smooth as the World Cup was [in 2006]. I’d do anything to help that. I haven’t been approached yet, but I know two guys who are involved in that project. I’m sure I can help somehow. I like to do things that make sense, as I don’t have much time to myself. But I’m more than happy to do it, because the Ryder Cup means a lot to me.

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