Kaymer Karmer - Martin Kaymer feature
Never was a King more secure in his Kingdom than Martin Kaymer was in Abu Dhabi last month. Kaymer was feted wherever he went at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, his first tournament of 2012, as he sought to win it for the third time in succession and the fourth in five years. His admirers stopped short of spreading flower petals in his path and garlanding his neck with laurel leaves – but only just.
At his hotel, one of the most lavish in the world, they greeted Kaymer like an old friend and put him in the same suite as he had been in previous years. At the golf club, the staff said “Welcome home.” When he stood on the tees of certain holes at the National Golf Course during his practice rounds, he noticed how pleasing the lines, angles and contours looked.
“Whether it is the 1st, 5th, 7th, 13th or 15th, whichever tee box it is I feel very comfortable with the hole. I feel that most likely I will hit it on to the fairway” Kaymer, 27, said on the eve of the tournament.
“I feel that this course is designed for my miss shot. If I miss it, I miss it right and a miss right here is OK 90% of the time. Mentally this course is not that exhausting. It is very comfortable for me, easy. I do not have to think a lot. It is pretty clear what I have to do on certain holes. On other courses you need to think a little more.
“Becker, Schumacher and Vettel are very rare sports people. They understand that you can only be good at sport if you enjoy it. Those I have named, how they act, how they behave in the media and in their private lives, they are very happy. And I think that is a big key to being successful.”Should I hit this club, should I hit that one? Maybe I should take a different club to put my ball in play. But not here. Here I know exactly what to do so mentally it is not very tiring.”
Such natural confidence before the tournament started only emphasized the astonishment that followed his opening round of 77, five over par. Kaymer’s first competitive stroke of 2012 flew out-of-bounds and it got worse from there. A 73 the next day was better but not much and it meant he had missed the cut in a tournament he was one of the favourites to win.
The considerable surprise that greeted this failure in Abu Dhabi is a measure of the stature of the German in the game. At that time he was leading the Europe team’s points table for the Ryder Cup and only a few months earlier he had won the World Golf Championship event in China. Among an array of talented young golfers well short of their 30th birthday, Kaymer stood out.
“Kaymer missed the cut? Never,” someone said. Actually, those in the know remember that for all the promise that made him the only player under 25 in the top-50 in the world a few years ago, a player so promising that he was taken to the 2008 Ryder Cup by Nick Faldo to see how it was done, Kaymer has a thing about Augusta National. He has competed in the Masters for the past four years and each time he has failed to last four rounds. It is both a surprising and shocking record.
“It’s not that I have a problem with Augusta” Kaymer said late in 2011. “It is that I have a Georgia problem,” referring to the fact that he had missed the cut at the USPGA Championship held at the Atlanta Athletic Club last August as well. Asked in Abu Dhabi for an example of a course that did not meet his eye Kaymer burst out laughing. “I think that is obvious. Augusta National.”
SO THIS STORY now changes from being the study of an all-conquering champion to the study of an immensely promising young man who already has one major championship to his name – he won the USPGA at Whistling Straits, Wisconsin, in 2010 – but will shortly set off to Georgia for the first major championship of the year knowing that he daren’t fail there again, not for a fifth time in a row. It is a big challenge for Kaymer, his biggest yet in fact.
To date, hardly anything has gone wrong for Kaymer’s career. Kaymer, who will be 28 in December, is known among golf fans in Germans as Golf Gigante, meaning a giant golfer for what he has achieved in the game. He has a regal bearing, a friendly yet reserved nature and a thundering golf game. A German golf journalist said after the Ryder Cup: “We have a new hero and we hope he can create a golf boom. He’s young, he’s successful, he’s good looking. He’s educated. He has a nice story behind him. Everyone likes him here.”
Kaymer’s rise was startling. He turned pro with a handicap of plus-5 in 2005, joined the European Tour in 2007, won his first victory on the tour in 2008 and barely 30 months later was No. 1 in the world – a reminder that Germans have a habit of bursting to the fore in their sport at a tender age.
Boris Becker was 17 when he won Wimbledon in 1985. Michael Schumacher sped to the top of motor racing almost as fast as he drove Formula 1 cars. At 22, Sebastian Vettel was the youngest ever runner-up in the drivers’ championship in 2009 before becoming the youngest world champion the following year. If there is an exception to the general rule, it is Bernhard Langer, who though 23 when he won his first event on the European Tour, had by then been on it for four years.
“It is a result of the attitude I created when I became a golf pro,” Kaymer said in that soft, rather flat, voice of his. “I see it as a normal job. Yet it is not a job because it is a lot of fun for me. It is not that I wake up in the morning and have to remind myself to go to the driving range. Those things I like to do. It is the practice that I have put into sport. It goes back to when I was an amateur and still at school. That is where I built my fundamentals. “What people underestimate is the support and calmness that the people around you create for you so you don’t have to worry about too many things. Obviously you can’t choose your brothers and sisters and your parents. I have been very fortunate with them. It is your attitude and at the end of the day the people who help you achieve those goals and reach those goals.
“Becker, Schumacher and Vettel are very rare sports people. They understand that you can only be good at sport if you enjoy it. Those I have named, how they act, how they behave in the media and in their private lives, they are very happy. I think that is a big key to being successful. Of course you need the talent and attitude to want something really bad and if you can bring happiness in as well then that is ideal.”
The time when Kaymer was, if not unhappy, then certainly less happy came during the hectic and brief period starting in February 2011 and finishing in April that year when he climbed to the top of the world rankings. It was striking how uneasy this assured, composed young man seemed with the mantle and how often he spoke about his discomfort.
“The feeling of being No. 1 is very nice but the things that come with it I was not prepared for,” Kaymer said. “That is why I did not feel great at the beginning. If I would get to No. 1 again it would be fantastic. I could handle the situation better.
“The people round me, it was their first time there also. I am talking about Johan [Elliot, his manager], my dad, my brother, Fanny [Sunesson, his strategy coach]. All of us suddenly have to pay more attention. You have to do more work. It takes a lot of time and organisational skill. It is not as easy as people think. It was a very interesting and fascinating learning experience for all of us.
“It is the same sort of thing as I experienced on my first year on tour. You come to new driving ranges, new clubhouses. You don’t know where everything is. New things happen. But once they have happened you have experienced them and you know how to handle them better in future. “Things like media requests, invitations for TV shows. You have to think to yourself: what do I have to do and what should I do for other people?
Some times you have to ask yourself, ‘do you want to do that or is it that other people want you to do that’? Who does it help? It is not that I don’t want to help other people but at the end of the day I can only give 100% if I am happy. If I am not happy then I can’t play good golf and then I won’t make the people happy who I could inspire, the people who could get something out of my success. It is a very fine balance and line to do both things 100%. It is very difficult. That is how I felt when I became No. 1 in the world.”
On the Saturday of the Abu Dhabi event, Kaymer had time unexpectedly on his hands. While Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Robert Rock did battle on the adjoining course, he hit balls on the practice range in the morning and did some putting practice in the afternoon. Kaymer did not have his caddie standing behind the hole on the putting green to scoop up each ball. He does not like an entourage. He does not think he deserves it. Apart from giving a half smile and a nod of his head to an acquaintance, he kept his head down, intent on putting the two previous days behind him.
Meanwhile Johan Elliot sat on the grass nearby enjoying the sunshine. Elliot, a quietly thoughtful man who also manages Robert Karlsson, knows Kaymer as well as anyone. “Martin is about as genuine as they come,” Elliot said. “There is nothing fake about him at all. It really is true of him that what you see is what you get. He knows when he is going to win and is not afraid to say so, to me at any rate. It is not bravado or boasting. It is a fact.
“Let me tell you a story. In 2010 he and I were at the KLM event. I had to leave on Wednesday morning and before I did so he asked me if I was coming back? I said if things go well the chances are I will be back this weekend. He said I hope you will because I will win this week. It was said without any bravado or cockiness.
Kaymer’s rise was startling. He turned pro with a handicap of plus-5 in 2005, joined the European Tour in 2007, won his first victory on the tour in 2008 and barely 30 months later was world No. 1 – a reminder that Germans have a habit of bursting to the fore in their sport at a tender age“On Saturday night I called him and said, ‘It’s looking good, eh? And he said to me: ‘I told you so. Are you coming back’?
“I said I was superstitious and he had done well without me being there so I wasn’t going to change anything now.
“He said: ‘OK. That’s a pity but I understand. But I am going to win you know’. And sure enough he wins.”
Assessing what had gone wrong in Abu Dhabi, Kaymer concluded that he was tired. He had enjoyed a six-week break from competitive golf since competing in the Dubai World Championship the previous month but he had played golf nearly every day of that break. Too much golf, he thought to himself.
“He was clearly shell-shocked at hitting it out-of bounds on No. 1 on Thursday,” Elliot said. “I was with him afterwards and said to him that was a bit of a wake-up call and he said to me, ‘I don’t need any ****** wake-up calls.’ He was stunned and he went to his room and said he needed time on his own. He came out the next day and it wasn’t quite there. Perhaps he was a little more withdrawn than usual but he took it out on the paddle-tennis court.
Martin deals well with adversity. He talks to one or two people, maybe me, his father, Fanny, perhaps his brother, and that’s it.
“You know something interesting about Martin and Abu Dhabi?” Elliott continued. “It is that an awful lot of what has happened to him in his brief professional career has happened to him down here. He won his first event here. In February 2011 he was presented with the Laureus Breakthrough of the Year Award, not just for golfers, for sportsmen. Last year down here he looked at a documentary made by Rolex about Roger Federer, one of his heroes, and this week we saw for the first time the documentary Rolex have made about Martin.” Elliot paused before adding: “And now this.”
Unsaid but clearly in his mind was how Kaymer would bounce back and, more to the point, how he would approach Augusta this year. Kaymer himself had said earlier that he would go to Augusta sooner than usual and, once there, would not allow himself to do anything that he did not consider to be his normal way of playing.
“I think what I did the past couple of years is a bit of a mistake. I was trying to play different golf and that is not my golf. You have to stick to your skills, to your strengths and that is what I will do this year. I might go there a little earlier to prepare better and I will try to play golf and not the golf that the golf course requires, maybe.”
Moments later Elliot glanced across at Kaymer. Now he was lying down, his head resting against his bag, enjoying the afternoon sunshine. His eyes were closed. He looked for all the world as though he was fast asleep. Perhaps he wasn’t though? Perhaps Georgia was on his mind as he lay there.
Perhaps he was visualising the shots he is going to have to play at Augusta. He needs to. The idea that a player as rounded as Kaymer, a golfer who less than one year earlier had been ranked No. 1, can be outdone by something as inanimate as Augusta National does not bear thinking about.