Martin Kaymer Explains the Finer Points of the Mastery Process

Martin Kaymer went three more strokes under par with Friday’s 69 in The Players Championship at the TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, Florida. That got him to 12-under after Thursday afternoon’s sparkling 63. The best effort to chase him down came from Jordan Spieth who shot 67 on Thursday morning.

So with the passing day, the draw shifted sides of the day and Kaymer played in the morning and went “home” to watch some of it on television. When Spieth started in the afternoon, he was seven shots down with his whole day in front of him.

Q.  By the time you teed off Martin Kaymer was already pretty much in at 12.  Is that in the back of your mind, do you completely ignore it?

“I saw it.”

Q.  Was it in your mindset?

“I saw he was at 12.  I didn’t think that that was going to be possible in the afternoon to catch that.  Especially warming up when the wind started picking up. But we got fortunate, I think, with the wind.  It was there, but it wasn’t really that much of a factor.  So we could still hit certain shots.”

“I saw him at 12‑under and still thought that 3‑under was going to be great score for me.  And I told Michael [his caddie] that.  We agreed.  And even par is still a good score. So we got out there and it was playing a little easier than it seemed like it was going to, and they just kept going for me.”

They “just kept going” for him six times and he waltzed into the clubhouse with a bogey-free 66 putting him just one stroke behind Kaymer and three ahead of Russell Henley.

So what a show that promises for Saturday, Kaymer and Spieth in the last group, two great players and both playing extremely well.

So that was what I planned to write about, you know, the clash of the titans. Read both transcripts and write about what they’re thinking about each others’ company and possibilities on Moving Day.

But I read Kaymer’s transcript first and he had so much wisdom about how to approach the game of golf in what he said, he soaked up all the oxygen in the room…and space in these pages. Spieth had a lot of interesting things to say, but they were specific to his round, this day, and not as universally applicable. So Kaymer it is.

The media continues to be fascinated by Kaymer’s fall from No. 1 and his efforts to work his way back there. They see it as one leap, Kaymer explains that doing such a thing is better done in more manageable, gradual steps:

“Well the goal is not really to become No. 1 in the world again.  That is three, four, five steps more than you should go.  I take it step by step.  It’s a very — a lot of people think it’s a good feeling to be No. 1 in the world and it makes you very proud, it’s nice to be up there. But it comes with a lot of pressure and a lot of expectations from others and subconsciously from yourself.”

“So you need to find a way to manage that and you need to find your own way.  Nobody can teach you that.  You need to see how it feels and then go with it.  I learned quite a bit through that.  But it’s always very difficult when people expect you to do very, very well every week and you can’t do very well every week, you can’t win every week.  As long as you know that and don’t try to please everyone, it’s a lot easier to manage.”

He was asked how the rest of the steps would unfold for him?

“Try to win the golf tournament first.  I had a lot of good finishes.  The way I played golf, I was very happy the last four or five weeks, especially. So the next step is just putting yourself in contention, hopefully win.  If not, it’s okay. But as long as you put yourself in contention for the next few weeks, especially now we’re coming up to the U.S. Open and the British Open.”

“So it would be nice to gain even more confidence and if you sneak in a win here and there it would be nice.  If not, it’s still good golf and good performances.”

One of the things that will make that possible for him is his gradual understanding that he does best on the golf course when he thinks less, a subject he first broached Thursday and the topic of yesterday’s post.

So in that light, when you shoot a 63 one day, do you put it out of your mind or do you gain some sense of momentum for the next day? He doesn’t believe in momentum, but for pretty esoteric reasons and all of them having to do with ego:

“I don’t really believe in taking momentum into the next day, because you sleep, you wake up with a different body feel, everything is a little bit different.  I think the most important thing is that you lower your expectations.  Everybody else thinks you keep going like this and subconsciously you think you should, but I, fortunately, I shot a few of those rounds in the past that I know that the next day is very difficult, like just mentally.”

“You have to be careful that you don’t compare yourself.  If I want to compare myself to yesterday, I think I was six shots worse the first nine [today] than yesterday.  So that would be the wrong way to think.  It’s a new day and if you are level par or 1‑under par after nine holes, it’s still a good score.  You can’t compare or you shouldn’t compare.”

“I think that comes from experience that you know it’s a new day and new things will happen.”

So to go into it with manageable or little pressure and come out of it your ego intact, what should your expectations be in his circumstances, just shooting around par?

“Yeah, it was, it’s a difficult golf course.  Yesterday was just very special day for me.  But anything around par today, if you shoot 1, 2‑under par, or even level par, it’s a good score.  Even though I shot 9‑under par yesterday and if people want to talk negative about it, I shot then six shots worse.”

“But you can always go in the negative.  But I see very positive things that I backed up that 9‑under par with another decent round.”

One of the most freeing ideas Kaymer shared in this session was the idea of playing for yourself. While others may have suffocating expectations for you to live up to the top billing of the No. 1 player in the world, all that goes away if you’re always playing for your own sense of satisfaction.

So for example, he didn’t go through his briefly debilitating swing changes to assuage others’ expectations, he did it because he wanted to know for himself that he was a more complete player:

“No [the swing change], has nothing to do with No. 1, has nothing to do with what other people expected.  At the end of the day I play for myself and there are only really a few people who really care how you play.”

“[Some in the media] like to see you up playing well, then they can write something when you play bad.  So at the end of the day it’s only you who really care.”

“I wanted to become a better player and I didn’t feel like the best player in the world, even though I was up there.  So that’s why I needed to change, to become more happy that I can do anything, whatever I need on the golf course, I can hit it.  That’s why I wanted to change.  It was very necessary.”

“Because at the end of the day, if you become No. 1 in the world now or a little bit later, who cares?  If you play good golf — well you must play good golf, otherwise you wouldn’t have the possibility to become No. 1.”

“So it’s just I think taking it step by step and caring more for yourself or what you really want and what you think is right for you and not really what people always tell you.”

“You got so much distraction.  I like reading articles about golf and I like watching the Golf Channel and all those things, but there’s a lot of talking and you need to separate those things.  So that it doesn’t get in your head.”

So what is the most difficult in all of this change is knowing that you are doing the right thing and then to be able to recognize what stage of the process you find yourself in. When people go through swing changes, the first thing they want to do is race to the first tee with their drivers. But in Kaymer’s experience, there is a time to learn and a time to play:

“The difficult thing is that you just keep believing in what you’re doing, that you work with the right people, that you just continue working hard.”

“I said it yesterday a few times in some interviews, just, there’s a time where you work and there’s a time where you have to play golf.  And you need to separate those things.  And that’s the tough part to separate on the golf course.  That you trust your feel, you trust your work that you put in, and then you just try to let it happen.”

“That’s very difficult sometimes.  Because on the range, in that sport, you work before the actual thing that happens. You go to the range, then you go to the golf course and you work afterwards.  So it’s a lot of work and a lot of thinking and a lot of trying to improve.  So I think it’s important to learn and to find a way to separate it.”

Last week at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, he was within reach of the lead for three days until he faded to T18 with a 75 on Sunday. But it was an encouraging outing and it gave him some confidence:

“Well, what I said earlier, it’s quite nice to put yourself up there as much as possible, because your experience increases and you get to know yourself a little bit more after being in contention more often.  It just gives you good confidence that you know you can compete right now again, against the best players in the world.”

“It’s just, right now, it’s everything is very positive.  So I just enjoy playing golf and if it’s in Charlotte, if it’s in Sawgrass or next week at the Byron Nelson, I take it and I just enjoy it.”

And we get to enjoy this breath of fresh air in the sometimes stultifying environment of hardworking Tour pros.

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