MARTIN KAYMER is blessed with a wonderfully subtle, dry sense of humour.
In the same way that a few of our American hosts wondered what awful mishap caused the No 2 Course at Pinehurst to look so ragged and brown during their national championship, not everybody over here gets it.
For example, it was amusing during the first two rounds of the US Open to hear American TV network commentators constantly advising their viewers that the course, a thing of beauty to the purist, was “meant to look like this”.
Kaymer has thrown the occasional fist pump at Pinehurst, but this intelligent and thoughtful Dusseldorf rarely, if ever, turns on the waterworks in public and never performs cartwheels for the cameras.
The control he exercises over his emotions served Kaymer well during one of the most searching, punitive and exacting US Opens in living memory.
Coping with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, which often struck as hard at Pinehurst as they do at British Open Championship venues like Sandwich, Carnoustie or Troon, was always going to be a critical part of the make-up of the winner of the 2014 US Open.
Temperamentally, Kaymer was perfectly suited to this challenge. He appeared to take his record-breaking back-to-back 65s on Thursday and Friday with a near nonchalance which some observers found disturbing.
Equally, he was unperturbed by a roller-coaster round on Saturday, remaining completely unruffled by the dreadful tee-shot he pulled into the pine trees to the left of the fourth fairway.
Or the drama which ensued as he discovered (a) he was not entitled to a free drop away from a deep channel carved by a torrent of rain water running through the pine needles and, then (b) scraped away armfuls of these ‘loose impediments’ from the spot where he then made his penalty drop after opting to declare his original lie unplayable.
Kaymer coolly hacked out on to the fairway; pitched into the green and made a 15-foot putt for the bogey of the week.
This was followed moments later by an eagle three at five. Again, he hit a poor tee-shot into the ‘native area’ on the left, but this time drew a nice lie, from which the 29-year-old German hit an exquisite 205-yard seven-iron to four feet.
Kaymer signed for a third-round 72 to leave him five ahead of California sunshine boy Rickie Fowler and the
remarkable Erik Compton, who has recovered from two heart transplants, one at age 12 in 1992 and the second 16 years later.
Both Americans posted 67 on Saturday, the only sub-par rounds on one of the hardest course set-ups in Major Championship history as the tournament organisers, the USGA, set a series of ferocious hole placements in response to Kaymer’s remarkable demolition derby over the opening 36 holes.
The pins yesterday were relatively more accessible yesterday as Mike Davis, the USGA’s inspired chief executive, gave the pursuers an opportunity to make it interesting.
The likelihood of a Norman-style final-day collapse by Kaymer appeared remote and if, in future years, he gets to tell his grandchildren of how he clinched his second Major title, one suspects those two pivotal
holes on Saturday will be accorded their proper place in the story.
Kaymer’s sense of humour shone through that evening as he discussed the drama in the woods at four. At one point, he was struggling to understand precisely what the rules official was saying as he explained why the rules governing ground under repair did not apply in this instance.
“I didn’t really understand the Eng
lish,” explained Kaymer. He called in his caddie Craig Connelly to take over the discussion adding in a monotone: “because he speaks better English than me, even though he’s Scottish!”
Just as amusing was Kaymer’s response when asked by a reporter if he’d been disturbed by the brazen incursion of a fox squirrel during his round. “What do you mean?” he said, blue eyes sparkling. “The squirrel lives here. We’re distracting his home.”
People can mistake Kaymer’s perfect but deliberate use of English, which is not his native tongue, for a lack of passion.
For example, those who know him could clearly see how delighted Kaymer was with the first-round 65 on Thursday that left him three ahead of his nearest pursuers, including Graeme McDowell.
Yet one American writer, plainly puzzled by the German’s tone,
ventured: “You’re very calm, collected, analytical but you just posted a record low score at Pinehurst. Is there any part of the little kid that remains in you that is pretty stoked about that?”
In fact, Kaymer’s as hotly passionate about his golf as any professional. It becomes immediately apparent when he discusses the importance of sinking that putt to clinch ‘the Miracle at Medinah’ in 2012 after the dreading that his poor form in the early stages of that Ryder Cup had let down his team-mates.
“Going to that Ryder Cup, I didn’t play good golf at all,” he said. “I wouldn’t have put myself on the team. I just qualified, that’s why I was on the team, but I would have never deserved a wild card.
“So I really wanted to prove to myself that I can do something for the team because I let Justin Rose (down). On Friday, I really couldn’t help him much. Obviously, on his record, that was a loss as well, so you don’t really want to do that, you don’t want to feel like that.
“For me it was very, very important to accomplish something at Medinah and I just got in a very lucky position that I could make something really, really big happen for my career, for Europe, for my country.
“I don’t think many people realise that something like this can change a career. If you think about it in the negative way, missing a putt like that could break an athlete.
“So I’m very happy I didn’t think about it while I was standing over that putt, but it’s quite important to realise there are both sides to every situation in golf. I experienced a positive, but what would have happened if you experience a negative.”
Kaymer’s career flagged in the wake of his 2010 US PGA win at Whistling Straits and subsequent brief foray at the top of the world rankings.
An ill-starred attempt to adjust his swing to play a draw shot caused him to drop out of golf’s top-50, but he confirmed his return to the game’s elite in May with a dramatic extra-time victory at The Players Championship in Sawgrass. Some Americans may not quite get Kaymer or understand his understated genius but all Europe does, and Ryder Cup skipper Paul McGinley in particular.
Along with wondering if Tiger Woods will be fit after knee surgery, US captain Tom Watson can only hope Phil Mickelson will shake off the putting woes which denied him the opportunity to land his long-awaited first US Open win and seal a career Grand Slam on perfect ground at Pinehurst.
By comparison, McGinley can celebrate the re-emergence this summer of one of European golf’s hardest, toughest and, yes, most passionately committed performers in perfect time for Gleneagles.