PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – In the place on his golf bag usually reserved for sponsorship logos or college insignias, right under his name in block letters, Martin Kaymer has a single sunflower.
No words. No commercialization. Just a single sunflower featuring a single petal falling from its stem, unmistakably imitating a lonely teardrop.
The sunflower was his mother’s favorite. One of the world’s most talented players, he could easily sell this space on his bag to the highest bidder, collecting a valuable sum for the rights.
Instead, he uses it to honor and remember her.
Rina Kaymer passed away in 2008 after complications from skin cancer.
Her youngest son didn’t need a reminder that it was Mother’s Day when he woke up Sunday morning. He received one anyway. Martin’s brother, Philip, two years his elder, sent him an early message about their mom.
“I got a really, really nice text message this morning from my brother,” Martin Kaymer later said, “which was very emotional.”
What did it say?
“That stays between us. It was a very nice text. It was very emotional. I don't get those texts usually from my brother.”
The Players Championship is golf’s annual celebration of motherhood. It traditionally ends on Mother’s Day, with most competitors in the field draped in various shades of pink to commemorate the occasion.
Kaymer was among those competitors on Sunday. Following rounds of 63-69-72, he entered the final day in a share of the lead with Jordan Spieth, seeking his first full-field victory in three years.
And it’s been a rough three years.
Swing changes led to poor performances; poor performances led to a lack of confidence; a lack of confidence led to more swing changes.
But that seemingly never-ending cycle was showing signs of ending. He finished 31st at last month’s Masters Tournament, then 23rd in his next start after that and 18th just last week. In a game where timing is everything, he was at least trending in the right direction.
Now he had a chance to break that winless drought on a day reserved for honoring mothers.
He’d flourished in these situations in the past. Back in 2006, when Rina was first hospitalized, he enlisted Philip as caddie and won the Vodafone Challenge on the European Challenge Tour, later presenting her with the trophy in her hospital room.
Two years later, with his mother growing sicker, he lost a six-stroke lead at the BMW International Open, only to prevail in a playoff.
Afterward, he looked into a camera lens and sent her a message: “This victory was just for you.”
She died two weeks later.
Winning at TPC Sawgrass was never going to be an easy proposition, but midway through the final round, Kaymer was making it look that way. He took a one-stroke lead on the eighth hole, then a two-stroke lead on the ninth. He extended it to three on the 10th hole and, with his third birdie of the day, he led by four on the 11th.
It appeared nothing could stop him from victory – until the horn sounded, suspending play for severe weather while he was on the 14th hole.
After the 91-minute delay, Kaymer reemerged without his rhythm. He carded a double bogey on the 15th hole, then made a sloppy par on the par-5 16th.
He arrived at the potentially treacherous par-3 17th hole, famously surrounded by water, site of so many implosions in Players Championships of the past, leading by just one stroke over Jim Furyk, who had already finished the round.
Kaymer's tee shot barely carried the front bunker, then spun off a slope directly toward the front of the green. Picking up speed as it rolled, the ball somehow – inexplicably – stuck in the narrow patch of rough separating success from tragedy.
“It was a good shot, I thought,” Kaymer said. “If it's unlucky and goes in the water, I have to congratulate Jim.”
He stopped short of referring to the result as divine inspiration. But on Mother’s Day, for a man who so obviously remembers and honors his mother, you could excuse him if he had.
From there, he flubbed a chip, but holed an equally inexplicable 28-foot par putt. He carded a less nauseating par on the final hole to clinch the title, his first against a full field in three years and yet another with his mother in the forefront of his thoughts.
“To win on Mother's Day,” he said, “we show our parents way too little, way too less. We always need some occasions to show them, which is what you realize when they're not there anymore.”
This was about as sentimental as he would get, at least publicly. He won on Mother’s Day, yes, but to Kaymer, it was no different than any other day.
“I think about her every day,” he said with a pause. “I don't need a Mother's Day.”