Martin Kaymer shared quite a bit of knowledge about the mastery process in his first three days of interviews at The Players Championship. And to his credit, he walked the talk all the way through the first 14 holes of the final round. That was where the horn blew suspending play due to area thunderstorms. This quote from the rain delay summarizes what he’d been saying all week long:
I just play with feel. If I see a shot that I think is the right shot to hit, I hit the shot. In the past I was just trying to play a little bit more safe because I was not very comfortable with my swing, but now I play the right shots the way you have to hit and play the golf course, and it’s worked out so far.
When play resumed an hour and a half later, he two-putted the 14th green and all seemed right with the world. But it wasn’t:
Well, it was a little sad that we had to stop. I had a really good round going, played really solid, hit a lot of fairways, a lot of greens. Unfortunately I left a couple short on line, but I played really decent. It’s never nice if you have to stop, and especially when you’re trying to win a golf tournament. I can’t change that. Just got to make the best out of it.
But that was the end of Shangri-La and the ceremonial stroll to victory…at least for two holes.
He pulled his drive into the trees on 15, hooked his second shot left of the green with a tree-trunk inducing abbreviated swing, dumped it in the greenside bunker, hit his worst bunker shot of the week, and missed the putt coming back to make a double-bogey 6.
On the par-5 16th, he was fine until his second shot ended up in the chipping swale left the green and up against the back cut of rough. Rather than chip it, he tried to fashion a conservative putt to cover the run through the swale and onto the green, over the crown of the hump in the green and slide it down the slope to the hole. He didn’t even get close to getting over the crown. But he said he was not rattled by all of this:
Well, the nerves were fine on 15. After the tee shot, after the second shot, everything was fine because I was completely under control. But then making that mistake to be too aggressive with that flop shot [and dumping it in the bunker] instead of hitting it on the green and making 5, you’re only one shot in the lead all of a sudden, even though you’re thinking 16 there’s a good chance to make 4, but I managed to make 5 every day, even though I was in good positions.
So the mindset was fine, and I was not very nervous, and I was not — I didn’t think that I would screw up anything here. It was just the wrong mindset on 15. You don’t do those mistakes. You just don’t. Not when you try to win a golf tournament.
His caddie encouraged him on the way to the 16th tee:
Yeah, my caddie said, you’re still leading the golf tournament, and it’s a par‑5 coming up, which is usually not that difficult to make 4, once you hit the fairway. I managed to make four 5’s this week there.
And it was, all week I played fairly aggressive and that’s the way I wanted to finish. And that’s why I was a little bit upset about my own mindset on 15 and 16, that I decided to putt that ball on 16 instead of chipping it. That was not really the way I played all week, but that was my decision and I definitely will learn from it for the future.
But redemption was right around the corner at the 17th tee of the famous par-3 island green. Well, actually not the tee, the hole. His tee shot barely cleared the front bunker, rolled left to the ridgeline in the green and then all the way down to the tufted rough at the water’s edge.
I thought actually the tee shot, that was fine. I was a little bit in between clubs, between wedge and gap wedge, but, under those circumstances, you take the shorter one and put a solid swing on it. I thought I did, but it was, I think, a yard short. So, but now I made 3, it’s on the scorecard, so.
The pin was all the way over the contoured hump in the green on the right side of the green. His weak chip shot left the ball on the right edge of the hump, the hole seemingly two stories below. And by this time, it was getting dark:
It was still a lot of break left‑to‑right. Obviously, left‑to‑right, downhill putt with the grain and the darkness it’s not that easy. There’s always a little bit of luck involved. But it was a good putt.
It was actually better than a good putt. In those circumstances, it was a 29-foot, bobsled-track miracle:
At the end of the day if I make bogey there, I still have a chance on 18. Obviously you cannot expect yourself to make that putt. That’s what I said; I just played with a lot of instinct and there was a little bit of luck involved that the ball went in. And it was quite a nice feeling walking onto 18 knowing that you have a one‑shot lead.
He striped his drive on 18, fatted the 176-yard approach shot just enough that it came down on the front apron of the green; a good miss. He rolled the 45-foot putt up onto the green and to within four feet, where he attentively and carefully made it for the one-shot win over Jim Furyk who played his heart out with a 66.
After a huge victory made possible by years of hard work, Kaymer shared his thoughts about the mastery process:
Well, the belief is always there. I knew that I could win a golf tournament again. It was not like that traumatic that a lot of people made it. But obviously a lot of people, they look for something that you don’t really feel, that you don’t really think is right, but it’s okay.
But I knew I was doing the right thing, what I said earlier in the week. I just didn’t know it would take me that long, but it did. It proved that everything I did, even though it took a little bit longer, it was all good because I work with really good people.
Among those people was his swing coach, Gunter Kessler, who came in for high praise:
My coach [Gunter Kessler] and me, we work for 15, 16 years together now, and he’s always really under the radar, but he has the biggest influence of my game. The way he’s teaching is not a way that you always need him. He’s not a very selfish person; he teaches the way that you can help yourself in a very simple way. He has the talent to teach really everyone, and that is for me really a world‑class coach. He doesn’t like the big stage and he doesn’t like to be in all those newspapers and stuff, but I believe he really deserves that. But it doesn’t make him a happier person, and that makes him even nicer.
I think I have to give a lot of credit to him, and therefore working together worked out very well. We have a lot of trust in each other because it worked out fairly well the first 13, 14 years, so now I can bring the trophy home and show him that we did well.
And finally he looked back to the lessons learned in this one and shared some of the high level goals they inspired:
To improve even more now that I can hit those shots under all circumstances. On 16 it’s not the right thing to putt it. It’s a soft egg. (Laughter.) You have to chip that one. Even if you’re not the best and not the greatest chipper, you’ve got to chip it. The worst you make is 5, but you’ve got to do it.
The swing is all good. I’m happy the way that it works out and the way I go. Everything is fine, and I’m really happy about this.
But those things, to really stick until the very, very end to your game plan, play with your heart. Whatever happens happens, but at least you’re very true to yourself. On 16 I was not true to myself, and that’s painful. It really is because it’s just not right.
But you can think I won the golf tournament, yeah, I should be happy, and I’m very, very happy about this, but those are things that I would like to improve for the future.
As I’ve said in previous posts, Martin Kaymer is a very interesting guy.