It’s four years since Martin Kaymer brought golf’s toughest major to its knees with an eight-stroke wire-to-wire win at Pinehurst. But despite two majors, four Ryder Cups and eight weeks as World No.1, the game hasn’t provided the German true happiness an
The double major winner faces his biggest test: The John Huggan Interview.
At the age of 33, Martin Kaymer has achieved much in the world of golf. He is halfway to the career Grand Slam having won the US PGA and the US Open championships. He has tasted victory in the Players, the so-called “fifth major”. He has won a World Golf Championship. He has been number-one in the world – for eight weeks back in 2011. He has four times represented Europe in the Ryder Cup and famously holed the winning putt at Medinah in 2012. He was rookie of the year on the European Tour in 2007 and number-one on Race to Dubai in 2010. That’s a lot of ticks in a lot of boxes. Yet when the German sat down to chat in Abu Dhabi earlier this year he was ranked somewhere in the mid70s. Things have not gone too well lately. Amongst other things, we sat down to find out why.
JH Let’s start at the beginning. How did a wee boy from Dusseldorf get into golf?
MK I started when I was 10. My father took my brother and me to a public range. He had been playing for three or four years. But my brother and me were more into soccer. And we had school. We had a lot going on.
At the age of 15 I had to decide if I wanted to play soccer or golf. My parents told me I had to choose – my activities were getting a little too much. I was earning money playing soccer for Fortuna Dusseldorf at the time, so it wasn’t an easy decision. But I chose golf because it is an individual sport. It is all about yourself and if you play well you get all the credit. It is not about 10 other guys helping you. Of course, if you screw up, you have no one to blame but yourself.
JH You didn’t take long to make your mark as a pro. “Meteoric” is a pretty accurate description of your ascent onto the European Tour. In 2006 you were on the German-based European Professional Development Tour – and less than 12-months later you were on the European Tour. (For the record, in 14 EPD starts, the former Austrian amateur champion won six times and eight Challenge Tour events brought one victory and five other top-four finishes).
MK I was so surprised. My original plan had been so different. After the Q-school I thought I would have one year on the EPD Tour, then maybe a couple more
on the Challenge Tour before getting to the European Tour. That is the normal way. But I did it all in one year. When I won my first European Tour event, the 2008 Abu Dhabi Championship, I played the last round with Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy. It was amazing. We all played great and it was fun. I tried so hard and it was special to win that and beat them.
JH How would you describe your relationship with golf these days? And how has it changed over the years?
MK At the moment we are getting on well. But I do feel I give the game more love than it gives me. I’ve put a lot of effort into training and practice over the last six months. But the game makes you sacrifice and suffer a bit until it gives back. I’ve had some big wins in my game though. So I know it is okay to go through that period.
But, all in all, the relationship I have with golf is very interesting. You have to enjoy and be happy with the success when it comes. And you need to take time out to realise what it all means. But there are always more difficult times than wins, in terms of results. JH It’s hard to stay in the moment, isn’t it? MK It is. But once you understand that, it’s okay. It’s a hard sport. It’s hard to win. And that is why you need to have even more respect for players who do win. Look at Tiger and how many years he has been on top. When I was World No.1 it was only for eight weeks. It was nice to be there, but it would have been even nicer to keep that position even longer. To be there is good, special. And great for the summary at the end of your career. But I was there for only five minutes.
All of which is why it is so important to respect golf. If you do, it gives you something back. Especially at times when you don’t really expect it.
JH How would you define that respect for the game?
MK Not being arrogant about yourself. Don’t ever think you can play the game. If you win some events and play good golf, it is easy to approach the sport in a cocky way. But it will get you if you do that. Which is strange. Where does that come from? I think it is a lack of focus. Focus and respect are very closely related. One goes with the other. If you are not focused you are less aware. And when you are less aware, the respect diminishes too. Then the arrogance comes into play. Especially if you have just had success. That is why I always try to have respect for the sport.
Back when I was a kid I knew nothing about that respect. I just played the game. And I was good at it. I enjoyed the game more back then. I learned. I had experiences, good and bad. And in that way you learn.
On tour I find myself focusing too much on being “perfect”. There is nothing like that. I can hit shitty shots and still win the tournament. So you need to find a balance between practising hard and still having fun and enjoying the game. That’s very important. But it is easy to forget.
JH How much is your overall happiness dictated by how you are playing?
MK It has an impact on my life because I care. But it is important to ask the question: “Could I have a good and happy life without golf?” I think I could, even if it is my passion. Yes, it would be hard to give up, but I could still be happy. I’m not the sort of player who, if I finish with a double-bogey, takes it home with me for two or three days. In the evening I maybe reflect on what happened. But then I move on. It’s just a sport. It is not life and death. And it doesn’t bring full happiness. In life, we need to find the places and people that do that for us.
When I am around kids, that is true happiness. When I win a tournament I am happy. But it is different. The same is true for love. People love their parents and brothers and sisters in a different way than they love their husbands and wives.
I do know some people who cannot live without golf. That’s bad. It is too much pressure. I will stop at some stage. And it would bother me if I did not know what to do after that.
JH With Craig Connelly on your bag, how is your knowledge of Scottish football these days?
MK The first couple of years I listened. Now it’s just noise. I don’t want to listen any more. It’s always Celtic, the fans, the rivalry with Rangers. It’s quite a boring league to be honest. There’s not much happening. It is always between two clubs. And right now it is one. I am happy for him because he’s excited. But it gets to the point where I have to move on (laughs).
JH If I made you “king for a day”, what would you do to sort out golf?
MK For professional golf, I’d make the fairways tighter, rough thicker, courses shorter and the clubs and balls go shorter. And more normal. It is not normal that Dustin Johnson hits 400-yard drives. That is not the way I grew up playing. But on the courses we play these days, it is possible. There is not much rough and the fairways are wide. I would make the game more interesting for the ball-strikers.
JH Would you like to see the ball spin and move sideways more?
MK That would give us more variety. If you watch guys on the range they are all doing the same thing. They are trying to hit up on their drives to get more yardage, ball speed and clubhead speed. All those things. But the feel, the touch, the individual class is missing. So to get that back I would change the courses and make them more difficult to play.
JH Would you need more rough if the courses were shorter? If the ball was shorter too.
MK Yes. That would benefit the ballstrikers. It’s a tough sport with fine margins of error. Or it should be. It shouldn’t be just about hitting the ball far.
JH Generally, I don’t find it as interesting as I used to. I am an old fuddy-duddy, but I don’t see shots getting shaped like they used to be. It’s not that you guys can’t do that; it is that you don’t have to. Or that the equipment doesn’t let you.
MK We don’t have to shape shots, that is true. We don’t learn it any more. So I’m not sure most players can. And yes, where we are heading makes the game less interesting. Which is why I would like to see the ball-strikers getting more reward.
JH Let’s talk about the Ryder Cup. It will be harder for you to make the next team, given where you are in the worldrankings. Is that something you worry about? Is it a big deal for you?
MK The Ryder Cup is my number-one goal this year, for sure. Not so much the majors or winning tournaments. But to get there I need to play well all year long. My schedule this year is intense, the most intense of my career. To play on both tours, I need to qualify for certain events. So it is going to be a bit different from the last few years. All because my number-one priority is the Ryder Cup.
It is nice to play in it always, but especially in Europe. At home you get so much more out of it, so much more motivation. It is so inspiring, a huge boost. To play for Thomas (Bjorn) would be a great honour. He is a friend of mine. I have played with him in a Ryder Cup, at
‘I WOULD MAKE FAIRWAYS TIGHTER, ROUGH THICKER, COURSES SHORTER AND THE CLUBS AND BALLS GO SHORTER.’
Gleneagles. And he is a nice man. So I would like to be part of it. But I am OK if I don’t make it. If I’m not good enough then someone else will have played better. Which will make the team stronger.
JH You have already had the ultimate feeling in a Ryder Cup of course. Holing the winning putt.
MK And I can never have that again. I cannot think about a bigger drama really. It was the ultimate satisfaction and gift so far in my career.
JH Do you ever think about what it would have been like to miss it?
MK Of course. But it is irrelevant. I’ve talked to psychologists about this. Most say you can think about it, but you can never know how plan B would have worked out. But it’s also normal and human and okay to think about it. Interesting too.
When I think about it a bit more deeply I get nervous. And I get people wanting to talk about it a lot. They wouldn’t do that if I had missed. And I definitely get recognised more for that putt than for anything else I’ve done in golf. Especially in Europe. And Britain for sure.
So the meaning of that moment – while I could never know it while I stood there – has been huge for me. Even now, I hear about it every week. And I hope it will stick with me for the rest of my career. I was one of the biggest parts in the “Miracle at Medinah”. And anyone who watches film of those matches will see me making the putt. It’s like Paul McGinley holing the winning putt in 2002, or Paul Casey making a hole-in-one. Those things are so special. I’m very glad that I had the opportunity and that it went well. I was prepared for the situation. But you never know until you get there. JH When did you know the putt was in? MK It was about seven-feet long and with about two-feet to go I knew it was in. I read it well and it started well. But you never know. I was so aware of what was happening. Some people get too wrapped up in the situation that they actually miss out on the moment. But I knew exactly what was happening. I felt every body part. It was crazy, a beautiful moment that will be with me forever. Which is why you cannot compare it to any major I have won.
JH You didn’t beat yourself up about the first putt. You knocked it well past when two putts was always going to be enough.
MK No. I talked with Jose Maria Olazabal about this at Valderrama last year. I told him that my attitude on the first putt was dictated by playing matchplay for three days. It is all about holing putts. So I wanted to hole the first one too. That sounds crazy. But it was a natural way of thinking. I’d done that all of the week.
If I had changed and just tried to get it close, I would have hit a shit putt. Something would have gone wrong. I might have decelerated into impact. Whatever. So I just continued with the normal process. Yes, I was seven-feet past, but if I’d hit that first putt on the second or third hole no one would have cared.
Actually, standing over the first putt, I knew I had read it wrong. I needed to adjust. But I didn’t. I should have allowed more break. But I didn’t. Which is why I hit it harder. All of which happened in less than a second. But my attitude was very positive. That was important.
JH Tell me about later that evening, what you can remember of it. I have it on good authority that you and Nicolas Colsaerts were the last men standing.
MK (Laughs) It was a tricky one. I was so, so tired. Unbelievable. But I wanted to enjoy the success and party with guys I play against every week. I wanted to celebrate together. This is a selfish sport we play. But then we achieve something so big and so important. I had to stay up.
JH The press conference afterwards was hilarious. Most of you were drunk. And Graeme McDowell fell asleep. MK (Laughs) That’s okay. JH Of course. MK I remember flying out to the Dunhill Links early the next day, where I couldn’t have cared less. But it was so important to take out that time to enjoy the moment and not care about playing the next week. I wanted to take it in. I was only ever going to experience it once. I can never have a bigger Ryder Cup than that one. JH Did you actually get to your bed? MK Yes. I know I was in bed. I’m not sure I was alone though (laughs).
JH We won’t go into that. Let’s move on. Have you made much of a difference to golf participation levels in Germany?
MK No. At the beginning of my career that was a bit sad for me. But the last two years, I have accepted it. I want to help, but the people don’t seem to want to be helped. So what can I do?
JH A few years ago I was on holiday in Berlin. You were World No.1. I took every chance to ask people I met if they had heard of you. Not one had.
MK That is depressing. But only if you care. It is nice to be recognised and get a little bit from the people. But it is okay. I enjoy playing golf a lot and don’t mind if people notice or not. But it is a shame when golf is such a nice sport. It would be a great education for a lot of German people. I would love for more of them to pick up clubs. But it is too complicated in my country. We have too many rules. Which is great for many things in our culture – and is why we are such a stable country. Many other nations look up to us. And I am very proud to be a German. But for golf we need to stretch the rules once in a while and here or there in order to get more people trying golf. But we Germans are very stubborn.
Which is not to say I don’t get a bit more attention than in the past. Which is good. I like all of that. Golf is a great sport and if it grows in Germany it can be very helpful for our population. Soccer is number one, but golf is growing, albeit slowly. If we can make it more popular that would be nice.
I know I have a responsibility in that area. Everyone says I am the next guy after (Bernhard) Langer. Which is nice. I’d love to inspire young Germans in the way I was inspired by Ernie Els and Seve.
JH Let’s talk about your major wins – and your victory in the Players. If you stopped tomorrow, what would be the highlight?
MK I would say the Players. Yes, the status of the tournament is less than a major. But it means more somehow. When I won the PGA in 2010, for example, my main goal was to make the Ryder Cup team. Then all of a sudden I was in a play-off to win a major. And when I did win it was a bit overwhelming. So I can’t really know what that meant. It was nice though.
Before I actually hit the winning tap-in I knew I had won. It would have been very difficult to miss that putt! I was saying to myself that I should enjoy that moment. It is easily the nicest moment I have ever had on a golf course, so far at least. As I picked the ball out of the hole my mind was blank to be honest. At such moments it is hard to think of anything.
It is very hard even now to describe how I was feeling. I just let myself go. It all happens without thinking, just as it did
‘THE 2012 RYDER CUP CELEBRATIONS WERE PRETTY WILD. I REMEMBER GOING TO BED. I’M NOT SURE I WAS ALONE THOUGH’
when I made that putt on the 72nd hole to get into the play-off. You never know how you are going to react until you actually do it. The enormity of the moment kind of takes over. JH And the US Open? MK That was a difficult weekend for me. I was so far ahead. So to continue playing that well was a challenge. It was difficult to keep going. The Players was more of a rollercoaster. Oh my goodness. There was a break for weather on the Sunday. And I made a mistake. For me, the day was over. I took off my shoes. There was no light any more. Then they sent us back out. Mentally, that was so hard. I doublebogeyed my first hole.
I thought I hit good shots on all of the last three holes though. The 17th is very hard to explain [Kaymer narrowly avoided the water, then made par when a bogey seemed inevitable]. I paid no attention to the conditions and got too much spin on my shot to the green. It was such a rollercoaster of emotions. I was done. Then I wasn’t. Then I was out of contention when I looked like I was in the water on 17. Then I was back in when I holed a one-in-100 putt.
The 18th I played in darkness. They asked me if I wanted to play on or come back in the morning. I wasn’t going to sleep on that tee-shot then come back out when the ball doesn’t fly. So I played on. I couldn’t see the ball flying on the tee-shot. And when I stood over my 8-iron to the green I couldn’t really see the grass. I had to feel when the club was on the ground. And the putting was even harder.
JH So is the Players above all the others because you were asked so many different questions?
MK Yes. That is a fair point. I had to deal with more. At the US Open it was clear what I needed to do – just keep going. But the Players was so hard. I remember walking during a practice round there with Paul McGinley. We had a chat about the Ryder Cup. Then he was the only guy who was waiting for me on Sunday evening. We went for dinner and a beer. Just him and me. It was very nice and something I will always remember. The Players is definitely my toughest win.
JH Your relationship with Augusta is interesting. And your record there is very poor. How much did you try to change your shot-shape for that course?
MK I like to think I learn from my mistakes. At my first Masters I had to finish with four pars to make the cut. But I got too greedy. I went for the green on 15, the par-5, and missed in the wrong spot. I eventually made double-bogey and missed the cut by one even though I birdied the last. I was so disappointed. I was trying so hard to make the cut. But I lacked the experience to do so.
For the first few years I had way too much respect for the course. It distracted my natural play. You can say what you like about Augusta and how Jack Nicklaus won there so many times playing a fade, it was a different course back then. Certain holes you cannot play with a fade. To say otherwise is bullshit. I don’t believe it. JH For example? MK The 10th is impossible to play with a fade. I did in the past because I couldn’t draw the ball. So I was hitting 3-irons to the green. After four years there, I was averaging 5.8 for the hole. So it was a double-bogey. And the 13th hole I never got home in two. And the 14th I was always down on the right side, unable to see the green. The 7th was hard for me. I had to start the ball left to keep it on the fairway. But I couldn’t because of the big trees. The 2nd was the same. I was playing in the right bunker. Or I laid up short and couldn’t get home in two. That’s a lot of shots to give up. It’s a hard course anyway. But it was a lot harder for me.
I was World No.1 when I went there in 2011. I missed the cut. I sat down and vowed to come back every year. But I knew I had to be able to hit a draw. I didn’t have to play with it every week. But I had to be able to at Augusta. I had to become a more complete player.
I talked to my coach. He thought the same thing. We didn’t change the swing. Change is playing left-handed the next day. I adjusted and added a few things to my swing. Now, I can play my way round. I know some think I made a mistake. But it is never a mistake to try to improve. I just wanted to be a more complete player. I didn’t feel like number-one if I couldn’t play a course the way it is supposed to be played. How could I be the best player knowing that was true?
JH I know you are a member of the PGA Tour again. But you had a wee gap there. Describe your relationship with them.
MK I like to be a member. It’s the strongest tour in the world. And it’s best in terms of money and ranking points. If you want to compete against the best, that’s where you go. Now I have a place in Florida, so travelling is a lot easier. As is living in America. My English was not good when I first arrived. My first time in America I went to Pizza Hut. I couldn’t finish; it was so big. The girl asked me if I wanted a box. I was confused. I asked her why I would need a box. She told me I could take my food home and eat it later. I had no idea. We don’t do that in Germany.
Anyway, back when I was suspended from the tour for a year, I couldn’t have cared less. It was fine. We have so many great events in Europe, it was okay. But they handled it a bit strangely. I saw through social media I was suspended. I didn’t even know. But they have their rules. I didn’t play the required number of events. So I was out for a year. No problem.
JH What German stereotypes do you live up – or down – to?
MK I’m stubborn and punctual. I can be fairly stiff in some situations. I have a clear way of thinking about stuff. Sometimes too much. Sometimes I need to ask if it’s necessary to get up at 6am when I have two weeks off to practise. It’s okay to sleep in. I need to learn that. I like to feel like I’ve worked a bit harder than other players. But long-term you cannot sustain that.
The discipline and punctual thing and the quality of work – I like them but they need to be healthy. Sometimes I get too much. But that’s why I am who I am. JH What’s left for you in golf? MK You are the first person I have said this to. If I win two more majors, the Masters and the Open, I’m done. But then people will say I need to win the Olympic gold medal or the Fed-Ex Cup (laughs).
Let’s go crazy though. Let’s say I win the Open this year and the next Masters. I’d play one more year but I wouldn’t do all the practice. I wouldn’t do all the suffering. In order to have success, you have to suffer. You have to give up certain things. That’s why success is so special. But I would struggle for motivation. I’d still play as the golf course makes me happy. But would I work hard to make another Ryder Cup or improve? No. JH What would you do then? MK I have my plans. But I don’t want to go too deep into those. I will lose focus on what I want to do now. I’m okay without golf. But let’s talk again after I win the Masters and the Open.
‘YOU ARE THE FIRST PERSON I HAVE SAID THIS TO. IF I WIN TWO MORE MAJORS, THE MASTERS AND THE OPEN, I’M DONE.’