The curious case of Martin Kaymer has far from reached its conclusion. To speak to perhaps the greatest golfing export from Germany since Bernhard Langer is to chat to one of the most pragmatic, talented players in the modern game.
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing: here is a golfer who has reached the pinnacle of World Number One and bagged himself two Major championship victories at the 2010 PGA Championship and 2014 US Open. He’s also attained Ryder Cup legend status after sinking the winning putt on the 18th hole to seal the ‘Miracle at Medinah’ in 2012. Yet, Kaymer has experienced two significant slumps in form to date – finding himself in the doldrums after making swing improvements in 2012, and again after his last victory in 2014. He’s winless since then and currently finds himself languishing at World Number 98.
Golf is a fickle game, however, and this year – in Kaymer’s own words, his “most important to date” – looks likely to be the one that turns the tide. The German has been lurking on the leaderboards for the last few tournaments and heading into the final qualifying rounds for The Open is pushing hard to book his place on the tee come July 18.
In this expansive interview the German native speaks openly about the last few years of his career and also provides a unique insight on how to win a Major:
You’ve been quoted as saying this year is one of the most important of your career. What gives it that value to you?
The biggest challenge recently has been that I haven’t been automatically qualified for many of the tournaments such as the WGC Championships and things like The Open. So, the ambition this year has been to break back into the Top 50 so that going forward I have that automatic qualification spot. It helps you schedule what events you’re going to play in each year, without needing to think about eligibility. In the past, I’ve always had that comfort, which is why this year it’s so important to get back into that position.
Things appear to be going in the right direction with your recent performances…
I’ve been playing well pretty much all year, but around the greens or more on the greens that kept me away from any top tens or having chances to win a golf tournament – and that has changed over the last four or five weeks. I’m seeing the ball going into the hole a bit more often and I’ve putted very well at certain events, which has put me in the position to win golf tournaments again.
To win tournaments these days you definitely need a little bit of fortune on your side
What do you think has clicked?
It’s very hard to say what makes the difference. Sometimes it’ll be one hole that keeps you from a good week or even winning a tournament. It’s such a fine line in golf. I think you need one really good round in those four days, and three solid rounds to have a chance. If possible, you have to avoid those level-par, one- or two-over rounds usually. But it’s tricky to say where those margins are won or lost.
I noticed at the BMW International Open that I had three decent rounds and one really poor round, and I still had a chance to win the whole thing. It’s more about staying in the tournament as much as possible and waiting until the back nine on Sunday afternoon. It’s very tricky these days because so much can happen, there’s so many guys that can win a golf tournament from anywhere.
At The Memorial in June, I was leading the golf tournament and I was thinking somebody like Adam Scott or maybe one or two other guys could come from a few behind and then all of a sudden Patrick Cantlay shoots eight-under par, so there’s not much you can do then but shake his hand and say well done.
To win tournaments these days you definitely need a little bit of fortune on your side so that when you have a weak time in the tournament in terms of score that the others don’t make too many birdies. It’s really tough!
What goes through your head when you’re in contention in a tournament? When do you attack or take it easy?
Well, it really has to feel right. I never try to push my limits too much and I try not to play too defensive either, I really try to play the shots that are required and that I believe – and that leads me to whatever score.
There’s so much to think about in golf; if you’re thinking about other players and whether they’re putting pressure on your score, then you lose those vital percentages that you need in your own game.
It’s interesting when people talk about focusing on your own game. What is the alternative? The alternative is to focus on somebody else’s game, but I’ve never understood the question of why people ask whether you’re paying attention to other people’s scores or not. I mean, who really cares about the other scores? You will try your very best and you will see by Sunday afternoon if it’s enough. Of course, you have a look at where you are on the leaderboard, but you don’t pay attention to how they might have gotten there. I’ve always tried my very best on every single hole – and I think that’s the little bit extra you need in Majors. You need to have that added focus on your own game and stay within yourself, rather than paying attention to anything that might lead to negativity.
Who really cares about the other scores? You will try your very best and see if it’s good enough
I guess it comes down to the added heat of a Major – the roar of the crowd, the sense that players are making a move…
Of course, you hear it, and when you go into the back nine on Sunday you’re going to have a look at what’s happening. Maybe subconsciously it may affect you, but not consciously are you thinking that the big hitters have a few chances to make eagle or whatever in their next few holes. That’s how to lose concentration.
You’re playing the Irish Open and potentially The Open in July, what do you enjoy about links golf?
I really like that every day can be very different: sometimes five under can be a decent score, sometimes two over is a great score, it really depends. You have to be very spontaneous and really play the course in front of you. You can’t really control, because of all the things that can happen on the fairways and the greens with the bounces and all those things, you have to adjust constantly.
There are so many shots available to you too, different chips and pitches, you can putt around the greens, you can take a rescue or play it high with a lob wedge. It’s really creative. Golf is an art form in Britain and Ireland, and is something I’ve always enjoyed.
I think a lot of golf professionals these days don’t necessarily focus on the creativity of the game – it became a bit more static, in terms of hitting it long, finding greens and trying to putt well. But here when you play links golf, there’s so much art that comes with it. I really enjoy and embrace those challenges, which is why I hope I can play well over the next couple of weeks and qualify for Royal Portrush.
What do you think of Irish golf and what will it mean for The Open to return there?
It’s nice that The Open is moving around a little bit and is going to a different country. Usually it’s England or Scotland – and we all get it, we understand the reasons why the The Open rota is the way that it is, but I think Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland really deserve to host such a big event. They’ve brought out so many great players over the last 10-15 years so it’s only right to at least go there once. And the Irish fans and the Irish people really enjoy life. They’re kindhearted, fun people who just love golf, so I think it will be a great success.
I think a lot of golf professionals these days don’t necessarily focus on the creativity of the game, but links golf is an art form
As a multiple-Major winner and Ryder Cup legend, do you still have ambitions in the game of golf?
The Open has always been the one tournament that I wanted to win in my career. As a European, I figured it was also likely to be my best chance of winning a Major, but funnily enough I’ve managed to win two in America. Of course, I don’t want to give those victories back, but if you ask me what is still a really big goal in my career I’d have to say The Open. Short term, obviously I want to get back into the Top 50 in the world. Mid-term goal is giving myself more chances to win more Majors and making Ryder Cup teams again, and then long term it’s about The Open.
For me, my core feeling is so deep with The Open. I always thought I had a great chance to win that golf tournament too, because of my affinity with links golf and because I’ve proved to myself I can win on those golf courses and I understand how you play those tracks. I’ve come close a couple of times, especially at St Andrews in 2010 when I finished T7. So I hope I’ll be in with a chance in the future.
To win The Open would probably be the biggest win of my career, because of the meaning it has to me.
We’re seeing a lot of comeback stories in golf, so maybe this will be yours?
I think we all were very inspired, whether you play golf or not, by what happened to Tiger Woods. That is just an amazing achievement – and I don’t know if anyone could ever understand what he went through, not only physically but mentally. To have all that pressure from all the fans, the media, from people who don’t even play golf or understand the game, everyone was so happy for him to win The Masters because of the emotions involved. The passion he still has for the game just inspires you to go out there and practice and play golf. It was very inspiring for me.
How have your experiences shaped you?
You need to understand your wins and really reflect on them in order to gain from them. It gives you positivity, courage, belief. Sometimes in the moment it’s difficult to understand your success because it just feels normal – there’s no other way. But I definitely have it in my toolbox, and it’s already helped me so many times in my career, just knowing that you have done something that your opponent hasn’t done in the past. It’s not your first time anymore, you know how it feels, which gives you that little bit of extra calmness that you might need in those situations.
It means you can control your nerves, your emotions and your breathing. For those who’ve never experienced that winning feeling, it can be a disadvantage. So I’m glad that I have those past victories to look back on.
Also, in the more immediate sense, what’s happened to me over the past four or five weeks: it’s been a couple of years since I’ve been in the position to win a tournament two or three weeks in a row. Now, I hope I can continue that… but even if I don’t I know it’s there, it’s just a matter of time.
Do you have one particular moment that you reach to?
For me, the most defining moment of my career was the US Open. The first two rounds, yes I played well and I was ten-under par and leading the tournament by a few shots, but it’s how you continue that, continuing to have the same feel over the ball and to play brave, and to play the way you should play the golf course rather than reacting to those around you.
I managed to do that over the weekend and that’s something I’m very proud of. That’s something I can come back to time and again when there’s pressure on. Maybe people don’t realise but it’s sometimes more pressure to be leading a tournament by five or six shots than leading by only one. All the expectation that you put on yourself – not from other people.
For me, there’s no secret to it, there’s just playing the game and continuing to play the 72 holes. The tournament isn’t over after 36 or 54 holes. The problem is the distraction that happens then, the interviews, the TV analysis, the things that are written about you. All of these things distract you from playing well in the next round – and that’s something you only experience when you find yourself in contention in a tournament. I now create more calmness around me: less TV, less social media, because what do you really gain from that? I don’t need it for my ego, I can see my name on the leaderboard so I know I’m playing well and I feel what I feel, so it’s just about filtering out the distractions that appear once you’re playing a good tournament.
You’ve been with BOSS for a number of years. What has the sponsorship brought to your game?
When I was an amateur in 2003, I played my first European tournament in Germany at the BMW International Open. A BOSS marketing manager there approached my dad about me. We were a little intimidated to tell you the truth; it’s a world-renowned company and probably one of the best companies in Germany, and they wanted to work with me? I was only 18 years old so I was overwhelmed.
The proudest moment was when I had my own collection: BOSS by Martin Kaymer. That was just amazing, almost a bit embarrassing. But it’s helped me a lot on the course: to have a company of that size with so much success behind you, supporting and believing in you, it gives you a great amount of confidence.
We work really well together too, creating different polo shirts, different styles and I’m helping them understand what we need on the golf course, learning about the materials.
For me, it’s very interesting to get away from the golf and learning about something completely different that I have previous experience in. Now, I’m working constantly with them. We chat on the phone every couple of months or FaceTime, or I go down to their headquarters in Metzingen and sit down with their designers. To see a shirt that you had in your mind come out in stores the following year is quite privileged.
Do you have a favourite item of clothing in the new collection?
I really like the black polo shirt with the blue lines running through it. It was my idea. I hadn’t seen any baby blue in the collection, I like the colour, and I suggested to the designers that perhaps next year we incorporate the colour into the collection.
Who are your biggest inspirations?
When I was younger Ernie Els, just with the way he played the game, but in the last ten years you’d have to say Bernhard Langer. It’s amazing what he’s doing on the Senior Tour and I’m not sure the German people really appreciate all his efforts. In our generation right now, the people you see week in week out on Tour, it’s definitely Tiger Woods. It’s still quite intimidating when you see his name coming up the leaderboard, and it’s brilliant to witness the action and the people he draws onto the golf course.
See the new BOSS collection at hugoboss.com