There wasn’t a lot of drumbeating for Martin Kaymer in the lead up to the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, North Carolina. But there is now. When only 15 of the 156 players in attendance broke par in the first round, Kaymer led them all after shooting 5-under 65. The next four players including Kevin Na and Graeme McDowell could manage no better that 2-under. No one thought that was going to be possible coming into the week.
Kaymer began by not being too overwrought about his daily scores. At a U.S. Open, par is generally a good score:
“Well, it’s only the first round and usually the golf course only gets more difficult. So I think if you stay around level par, you can’t be that far away from winning the golf tournament. Even though I shot 5-under par now, which is obviously an exceptional score, it’s very nice to lead the tournament right now.”
There are two other things that bolstered him in the first round: that he has moved beyond technique and that he has decided to always have a positive mindset:
“You know, I stopped working on technique pretty much the middle of the March, beginning of April. It was just about the right time for the Masters and the whole season, trying to get onto the Ryder Cup team.”
“It’s always nice if you don’t think much about technique, and just focus on the main things, the yardages, and where you want to hit the ball, and not thinking too much if you hit it not too good where would it end up.”
“It’s pretty much very straightforward thinking, very positive thinking. Today I hit a couple 6-irons on 15 and 16. They were too good. I hit them so pure that they were unfortunately behind the green on 15. But it’s not a bad judgment, it was just — I’m actually happy about the shot, even though it ended up in a bad position, but it was a great golf shot. So I see things very positive right now. There’s not much negative. And I really enjoy playing golf that way.”
His win at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straights was his first major and a hallmark in his career, but it was his win at this year’s Players Championship that brought him a whole new level of maturity:
‘The Players gave me a different status as a golf professional. A lot of respect from people, a lot of respect from the players, a lot of satisfaction for myself that I — obviously, it’s a career goal. When you’re very young, when you’re 23, 24, you’re coming out here, it’s a career goal to win a Major. And I got it done fairly early.”
“You just grow a lot as a person with the things that come with it, not really the win, more like what happens outside the golf course. Obviously sitting here, doing interviews, a lot more than if you wouldn’t have won the PGA. So you learn a lot about yourself and that makes you more mature and it takes some time to get used to that change. Because you change all the time, obviously, but that change is quite dramatic. It takes a lot more time than you thought. But it’s all good once you have enough time to reflect and realize.”
And with that maturity came the magic elixir of golf, confidence:
“Well, it’s all about the confidence. You stand over a ball and — for example, today, on 17, I needed a high draw to get it to that flag [back left, 4 from the edge], to hit it close. You can always go to the middle of the green and try to make your 2-putts and make 3, but I really wanted to get it close to the hole because I thought I had a good yardage and I tried to hit a high draw and I hit a perfect shot. So if that’s the plan, to hit that high draw and you do it, it only adds confidence.”
“That’s the right way to play golf, I think. When you hit a bad shot, let’s say if I would have pushed that 6-iron to the front bunker, at least I tried it. I think that’s the way forward how you want to play golf. And when you hit those good shots, it adds a lot of confidence.”
“At the Players, I tried to hit a lot of times the right shot, and it worked out 90 percent well for me. Today the same. I just tried to hit the right shots and if it happens that I make a good swing, then it’s in a good position. If not, then I can live with it as well.”
This is classic objective thinking: you simply take in the results of the shot, good or bad, without having an opinion about it or as important, yourself.
“Well, even today I said to my caddie, on 15, when I hit a pure 6-iron, behind the green, I said, you know, it was a good golf shot, if I make four here, I can live with it. It’s fine. You will make bogeys, even with good shots.”
“Once in a while here you will make bogeys with bad shots, and for me it’s okay to accept it. It’s a very, very difficult golf course. It’s a very difficult test. You can’t approach one of those tournaments the way you approach a regular European or PGA Tour event.”
His win at the Players gave him a sense of perspective that gave him still more confidence:
“I took the last two weeks off, I didn’t play golf at all. To realize and to try to reflect what really happened at the Players. It was kind of like an opening for me. It really changed things. I’ve been playing very well since the Masters and I put myself into the Top-20, which was always okay. Therefore, slowly I gained some confidence and then all of a sudden you win the Players, one of the biggest tournaments. It’s a big, big relief, that now you can start playing golf again and don’t need to think too much.”
“The pressure from all the media, the social media and all that stuff, which was kind of like annoying sometimes, because you can’t avoid listening to it or reading it. The outside, they put a lot of pressure on you. And at the end of the day, obviously it’s up to yourself, if you let it get to you or not. But you have to be very, very strong to really don’t care. I care about it, I read it once in a while, and therefore it was quite nice to get that out of here, the pressure and all the negativity from some people and the expectations. So it was quite nice and that obviously helps a lot for you as a person but more as a golf player.”
The other thing that he has gained in his recent success is a sense of proportion, a sense of proportion that allows him to remain level-headed when euphoria might be a more typical reaction to his first day’s results:
“Well, first, I would have never expected myself to shoot such a low round in Pinehurst because of the conditions, but it’s a good round of golf. I wasn’t expecting it, I’m not freaking out about it, it’s the first round of a very, very important tournament. I try to win as many Majors in my career as possible. I won one so far, I put myself so far in a good position, but we have three rounds to go.”
“There’s so much golf to play. The golf course will change a lot; you have to adjust a lot more. So that first round is a good start, but that’s it. There’s nothing more than that. If other people want to make more out of it, it’s fine, but for me it’s a great start into one of the most important weeks of the year.”
It remains to be seen how Kaymer’s second round will go. But as one of the most thoughtful and articulate players on the Tour, it’ll certainly be interesting to watch.