Martin Kaymer: “The Germanator” is back

He’s baack. After being in what seemed a year-long slump, Martin Kaymer stormed to the top of the leaderboard in Sunday’s final round at the WGC–HSBC Champions in Shanghai and stayed there. When you shoot a 9-under, 63, that tends to happen.

Starting from five strokes back of leader, Fredrik Jacobson, he had nothing going but a string of pars through six holes. “Ho Hum. What time does the flight leave?” And then he hit it in the greenside bunker on the par-4, 7th. “Oh, great.” But then he made the bunker shot for his first birdie:

It started off a little slow. But then I holed a bunker shot on 7 for birdie and pretty much since then, I didn’t miss a lot of golf shots. I didn’t miss a lot of putts. I made a nice birdie on 8. Missed a very, very short putt on 9 from 2 1/2, three feet. And then, yeah, I think I shot 9-under the last 12 holes.

You just never know when things are going to turn around or, obviously, by how much.

This was way better than his year has been going. He started strong in the first tournament of the year against a robust field in Abu Dhabi with an eight-shot win over Mr. “The Natural,” Rory McIlroy, and two more over Retief Goosen and Graeme McDowell. Impressive. He also got to the final match in the WGC-Accenture Match Play in Tucson, losing to Luke Donald. It seemed improbable at the time, but Donald went on to have a career year and now has a firm clutch on No. 1 in the world.

Kaymer had a couple of other nice finishes, but a number of other real mediocre ones, to the point that people began to wonder what was going on with him. There was some talk that he tried to change his swing and now was trying to change it back. This guy was supposed to be the next great thing (this was before McIlroy exploded into such prominence). Well, maybe we got to the bottom of it a little in his post-round interview:

Q. Such a strong start to the year in Abu Dhabi, what happened since then, do you think, and how important is it to win now going forward?

Well, before that, what I said earlier already, it was an okay season; now it’s a good season. I played brilliant golf in Abu Dhabi, and when I became the No. 1 in the world in March, or pretty much—I think it was in February after the World Golf Championships event in Arizona, my life has changed a little bit; not only mine, for the people I work with, my family.

And sometimes it’s maybe for some people, it’s easy to—let’s say, for me, it was a tough stretch of months, because it’s not normal that at my age you become No. 1 in the world. All of a sudden, you have more attention. Doesn’t matter really where you go. In my own country, I became the German golf face. In America, a lot of people recognized me because obviously golf is a little bit bigger in America than in Germany.

But it has been, you know, a little awkward situation sometimes, because I was just not used to be that much in the spotlight. And it took some time to get used to it, and hopefully it will happen again, because I know what’s going to happen, I know how to approach that thing.

And obviously with this win, it has put me in a very nice position now, because I won a major last year, I won a World Golf Championships a year later, so all of the big events in the world, I put my name on it, which is nice. Now I just try to collect more majors and World Golf Championships events.

So here we have one of the best players in the world—in fact, a player who became the best player in world—and even with all the mental skills he had to get himself there, he was not prepared for the shock to his consciousness once he did. The mental state required to play at very high levels can be very delicate until you know how to find it.

Q. There’s a lot of people who have talked about the adjustment it takes when you get to No. 1 and get the attention. I wonder if you can think of some specific examples of what kind of a burden it became, either on time or attention or what have you.

Well, the biggest thing what has changed, there was a tournament that I played in Germany…Saturday after the round, I went back to my car, and a couple of people, they came up to me and wanted to talk to me. I suppose I answered the questions and went back to my car, drove back to my parent’s house which was only five minutes away and they were just following me and taking pictures when I went out of the car. When I went into the house, you know, they were waiting for me, and when I came back the next morning. It was a little awkward and that takes some [time to get used to].

This doesn’t sound like such a big deal until you imagine all of this taking place in your driveway. And you imagine how well you’d sleep the first time this happened to you wondering all the while if they were still out there.

In any event, Kaymer’s typical candor helps us to see the subtle ways in which our consciousness can be disrupted …even when we’re the very best in the world.

We should see great things from him next year, because now he knows too.

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