Criticized Kaymer gives Europeans decisive point

By Ryan LavnerOctober 1, 2012, 2:06 am

MEDINAH, Ill. – Perhaps it was no surprise that the most unlikely Ryder Cup in history had an equally implausible hero.

For months, Martin Kaymer, 27, was the beleaguered former No. 1 player in the world, the classy player whom newspaper columnists opined should forfeit his spot on the team, the major winner who was buried on the bench by European captain Jose Maria Olazabal.

And now, in the fading sunlight Sunday at Medinah, after the Europeans authored the largest comeback ever on foreign soil – and Kaymer delivered the clinching point in a 14 1/2 to 13 1/2 victory – he draped a German flag around his shoulders, extended his arms and made a black, red and gold cape. A most fitting display of Ryder Cup heroism.

“This,” Kaymer, the 2010 PGA champion, said, “means more than a major championship right now.”

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He jogged – OK, he floated – between the barricades behind the 18th green, across the first tee and onto the scaffolding that was erected over a cart path near the clubhouse. There, his teammates were celebrating. Large bottles of Moet champagne were being uncorked.

On the bridge, Sergio Garcia took a satisfying gulp of champagne and then, after motioning to a European fan down below, slowly poured out some of the bubbly. The fan opened wide. He, too, tasted some of the victory.

In 2011, Martin Kaymer was the No. 1-ranked player in the world for 10 glorious weeks. He was described as the “Ultimate Driving Machine,” because of his exceptional long game, and he was nicknamed the “Germanator,” because of his unflinching personality.

But in May of that year, he forfeited the top spot – in part because of the sterling play of other Europeans (such as Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy), and also due to a swing change that was slow to take hold.

Last November, though, he pieced together four rounds in the 60s and won the World Golf Championships event in China. But this year, he said, “I haven’t done much.”

Even that may be an understatement. He finished T-7 in Malaysia in April, and after that his season became a blur of middling results. At the PGA Championship, where Kaymer was grouped with Tiger Woods for the first two days, he shot 79-79.

Not surprisingly, his poor play coincided with a freefall in the European Ryder Cup points standings. No longer was he a lock to make the team. (He eventually finished 10th, the last automatic qualifying spot.)

Stories began to appear in the papers – the cruel and unfair kind, the ones written with the aid of anonymous sources. There was one story, in particular, that appeared in The Sun in London. Privately, the report said, Kaymer was considering turning down a spot on the team if his game didn’t improve. He was too embarrassed by his play. He didn’t want to be the weakest link. He didn’t want to be blamed for a European loss.

Asked if his man was stung by the criticism, Craig Connelly, Kaymer’s caddie, replied, “No. It just makes you play better.”

After the PGA, Kaymer took three weeks off and practiced diligently at home in Mettmann, Germany. When he returned to competition, at the Euro Tour’s KLM Open, he was paired for two days with Olazabal. It was a dress rehearsal.

Kaymer had a decent showing there (T-21), and a week later, at the Italian Open, he finished T-5, his best result in five months. In public, Olazabal continued to express confidence in Kaymer, who has dropped all the way to 32nd in the world. But his actions at Medinah suggested otherwise.

Kaymer played only one session Friday – a 3-and-2 fourballs loss with Justin Rose – and was benched all day Saturday. It was the captain’s attempt to hide a perceived weakness. Swede Peter Hanson took exception with his own two-session benching, and reportedly had a heated exchange with Olazabal. Not Kaymer.

“To sit out and watch your team . . . sure, you’re supporting them, but there’s nothing you can do,” said Connelly. “He galvanized himself, got his thoughts together, and knew he had to step in today and get a point for the team. He was confident of playing well today.”

In Match 11 Sunday, the penultimate group, he would face American Steve Stricker, one of this Ryder Cup’s grave disappointments.

Heading into singles, Europe trailed, 10-6. It was nearly an insurmountable deficit. Kaymer’s match – the 11th of 12 singles matches – likely wouldn’t even factor in the end result.  

Of course, this European charge on Sunday was unprecedented. And as Kaymer and Stricker strode to the tee of the par-4 16th, still all square, Olazabal walked over and told Kaymer: “Martin, we need your point. We need it. I don’t really care how you do it – just deliver.”

Kaymer sank a 7-foot par putt to halve that hole, and then he took a 1-up lead after Stricker bungled the par-3 17th.

On 18, Kaymer – the former Ultimate Driving Machine – sailed his tee shot right, into a fairway bunker. He had 165 yards to the flag, and nearly all of his teammates were huddled near the edge of the green, and thousands of fans were on that hole, crammed together, and they were cheering and jeering and making it difficult to concentrate.

Kaymer’s 8-iron shot from the bunker hit the left fridge, took a fortuitous bounce right and settled 25 feet from the hole. Stricker’s approach sailed 40 feet past the cup, and his birdie try never came close. Par.

Putting for the win, his slippery birdie putt caught the slope and drifted 6 feet past the cup. He grimaced.

Flags waved in the background, and Kaymer tried to concentrate amid a cacophony of noise, the Chicago crowd serving as the U.S. team’s 13th man.

Now Kaymer was over the putt, ready to pull back the putter blade, and still the noise did not cease.

Miss it!



The putt went right in the center of the cup.

“I didn’t think about missing,” Kaymer said afterward. “You only have one choice. But if you ask me now how that putt went and how it rolled, I have no idea. I can’t remember. When it went in, I was just very happy, and that is something that I will remember for the rest of my life.”

In celebration, Kaymer dropped his putter, clenched his fists and shook them furiously. He then wheeled around and leapt into Sergio Garcia’s arms, and soon he was engulfed in a sea of blue.

“He’s just the kind of guy you want to have, with a 5-footer on the last to win,” Hanson said. “He’s so calm. He doesn’t get stressed out and nervous.”

“This feeling,” Kaymer said, standing on the 18th green, “it’s not describable. I never felt it like this before, and I didn’t know it would be that emotional, that big. To make that final putt, it means so much.”

Amid a throng of photographers and TV cameramen, Kaymer was ushered from the back of the green to the front, from the front of the green to the back. Finally, he was ready to conduct his first interview, his eyes still glazed, until he realized his oversight.

“Wait, guys,” he said. “I have to go find Steve.”

After a brief and delirious search, he located Stricker, who was being consoled by teammates. They shook hands. They said “great match.” They went in different directions.

Amid the euphoria, someone handed Kaymer the German flag – the one now drenched in champagne – and Kaymer wore it like a cape.

Nicolas Colsaerts, the long-hitting Ryder Cup rookie from Belgium, grabbed Kaymer’s face with both hands and screamed, “You were f------ unbelievable!”

Onward, to the fans left of Medinah’s 18th green, the ones who were screaming and jumping, the grown men and women who wore Rory McIlroy wigs and Union Jack outfits and sang, “Ole, ole, ole!”

As Kaymer played to the crowd, waving as a savvy politician might, the flamboyant Ian Poulter – 4-0 and the Man of the Match – slid onto the grass and held his arms aloft, a rock star at the end of his concert set.

Kaymer was content to stand to the side, laughing at Poulter’s antics and marveling at this four-hour turnaround, from Europe’s greatest weakness to one of its brightest stars.

“The boy just proved his worth today,” Connelly gushed on the 18th green. “And how fantastic is that?”

Relive Day 2 matches Monday at 8 p.m. ET and the singles matches Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET.

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

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After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.

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Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 12:35 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.

Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.

''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''

Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.

''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''

Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.

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Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.

''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''

Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.

''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''

The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.

''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''

Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.

''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.

The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.

''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.

He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.

Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.

''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''

Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.

''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.