Remember the photo of Martin Kaymer the morning after he’d won the 2014 Players Championship, sitting on the airport floor waiting on a flight just like any other traveler might?
The photo told us more about Kaymer than his golf already had and it came just a month before he won the U.S. Open at Pinehurst.
“I’m not a king,” Kaymer said later when asked about the photo.
For a time, though, Kaymer was the top-ranked player in the world, perhaps the quietest and most inconspicuous No. 1 ever.
He’s won the U.S. Open, the PGA Championship and the Players and there he was in the Columbus, Ohio, airport Monday morning after nearly winning the Memorial Tournament, as inconspicuous as ever, waiting on another commercial flight. He did get to board first when his flight was called, a hint about where he was sitting, but Kaymer long ago earned his upgrade.
Kaymer is an example of how a career can gradually go off course and he is a willing subject on a topic that’s almost taboo to tour players. Jordan Spieth, for example, has pushed back on suggestions that he’s been in a slump, and three straight top-10 finishes indicate he’s through the worst of an obvious downturn.
While Kaymer has never sought the spotlight, his tepid play pushed him toward the game’s shadows. Once a fixture on leaderboards, Kaymer drifted toward obscurity, a rarity for a man who was once considered the best in the world.
Not one thing, Kaymer said.
“So I need to go through that progress of getting myself back up there. It’s nothing to do with golf. It’s just seeing the other guys, how well they played. You think, that is amazing; how can you play that well on the golf course?” – Martin Kaymer
“Sometimes you would think I won so many big tournaments I should have so much belief in myself that I can win any week. But that’s not the case because certain times you just feel like you’re not on your ‘A’ game. Sometimes it’s still enough to win but at the moment or the last two years I was just not there. I just didn’t believe that I could win the tournament that I’m playing,” Kaymer said when he found himself leading the Memorial with 18 holes to play.
“So I need to go through that progress of getting myself back up there. It’s nothing to do with golf. It’s just seeing the other guys, how well they played. You think, that is amazing; how can you play that well on the golf course?
“So I just didn’t see it.”
At times, Kaymer said, he watched videos of himself winning tournaments as a reminder of how good he can be. He vanquished the field at the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, winning by eight strokes, figuring out it was better to putt from off the famously hump-backed greens than trying to chip.
His game has always been marked by efficiency and while he didn’t see Pinehurst No. 2 or the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass as places that best suited him, Kaymer won anyway.
Then it went away. There was a wrist problem that bothered him a year ago but the decline had already begun. Kaymer kept grinding, working to find what had gone missing.
He tried to change and that can be poison to a professional golfer. But when the scores aren’t what they could be, impatience or frustration or both take over.
“You need to change something,” Kaymer said. “(The thing) you need to do is not change. There’s nothing to do and I tried to do something.”
Kaymer, a 34-year-old German, is a thoughtful man. Ask him a question and he takes time to formulate his answer. He doesn’t speak in clichés. Kaymer offered a brilliant answer last week when he talked about reducing the distractions in his life.
“Just getting away from so many things, social media, watching TV, reading stuff that is not important. What do you really gain from social media during tournament days? There’s so much gossip, so much talk, so much distraction,” Kaymer said.
“I just got out of that. I just didn’t want to read that because there’s nothing really to gain from it. And that was a big one for me; that the other day I was standing at Starbucks, I was in line, 10 people in front of me, everybody was on their phone reading something, but they don’t know what they’re reading. It’s just distraction, stimulation for your brain, just not thinking, not being there.
“And I tried to get away from that and that automatically makes you more aware, makes me more conscious, and I think leads to more calmness, I guess. It helped me.”
Imagine that – turning off social media and putting down the cell phone made a difference. There’s a lesson for many of us there but, of course, Kaymer’s lesson couldn’t possibly apply to the rest of us.
With a chance to win the Memorial, Kaymer made a couple of mistakes over the closing holes and eventually was overrun by Patrick Cantlay’s closing 64. His third-place finish was Kaymer’s best on the PGA Tour in more than two years, vaulting him back inside the top 100 in the world at No. 97.
He was off to Cabo San Lucas on Monday, taking a one-week vacation before turning up next week at Pebble Beach for the U.S. Open. Should he happen to win another major championship – or any tournament – Kaymer will view his achievement differently this time.
“I’m not the guy who celebrates a lot, which I think is a little bit of a mistake,” Kaymer said.
“Because you don’t know the value of the win, if you see everything the same. If you just move on and move on, you try to go from one tournament to another and you continue doing that, but you need to pull yourself out, maybe celebrate, however the celebration looks like.
“It doesn’t need to be going to Vegas and get drunk, but you need to celebrate the win, the resolve, the effort. You need to give credit to yourself, and I never did. So whenever the next win will come, I know what to do different.”
Martin Kaymer was perhaps the quietest and most unassuming No. 1 player ever. Photo: Matthew Lewis, Getty Images
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