PINEHURST, N.C. – Martin Kaymer won the 114th U.S. Open championship by a million and one strokes on Sunday, which should once again vault him directly into the spotlight.
He’ll become a household name. His Q-rating will skyrocket. Hey, maybe he’ll even get a bag deal.
That’s terrific news, right? Well, not exactly.
There’s a strange juxtaposition in the world of professional golf. Those who gravitate toward the game at a young age for its insular nature, spending so many lonesome hours on the range in solitary pursuit of finding a secret in the dirt, often become proficient enough that they are eventually thrust into the limelight.
We expect them to be congenial and affable. We expect them to walk in the confident footsteps of Arnold Palmer and Seve Ballesteros and Phil Mickelson. We expect them to act like superstars.
Kaymer has been in this position before. He won the 2010 PGA Championship and became the world’s No. 1-ranked player six months later.
And he hated it. Or at least, he didn’t really enjoy it.
Not the part about reaching the pinnacle of what every golfer strives for, but living life in that bubble. Absorbing attention when he never actually craved it.
He talked about this last year. It was during a quiet moment on a practice green, after his No. 1 ranking had ballooned to something more inconspicuous. After his major championship win had been surpassed by so many others.
“Everything you do, everything you say, all of a sudden becomes very important. You’re not really used to that,” he said at the time. “Tiger [Woods] grew up with it since he was a child –all the media, all the attention. But for the rest of us, it’s not normal. It really takes some time.”
It’s not that he’s unaccommodating. In fact, the very opposite is true. Kaymer is considerate to a fault. He’s been asked to address the swing changes which led to his downfall in recent years so many times that it would leave most other players spitting fire when asked again. He simply tries to explain it for the thousandth time in the same way as the first.
He deflects attention, rather than coveting it. He is humble, not boastful. He is unassuming, pleasant, cordial and attentive – basically, everything we hope our superstar athletes will be and nothing we expect.
All of that will be on display as he once again finds himself in the spotlight.
He will be asked questions that he wasn’t asked when ranked 68th just two months ago. He will be followed by cameras that didn’t follow him when he wasn’t winning tournaments.
And he believes he’ll handle the celebrity much better than he did before.
“Four years ago I didn't know what's happening,” he explained after Sunday’s runaway victory. “I was not expecting myself to win a major at 25. I was surprised about my performance. I was surprised about a lot of things. I couldn't handle a lot of things that happened in Germany, all the attention that I could get. And then becoming No. 1 in the world, that added another thing. And it was too much.”
At this point, the always sincere Kaymer allows a bit more into his psyche than most of his peers ever would.
“To be completely honest, it was very difficult to handle everything and to play good golf. So right now I am OK with talking to you in a very calm, normal, relaxed way, as if we were having a normal conversation. In the past, I always think I have to say something special and something that might be interesting. Now I just talk and it's a lot easier for me.”
Therein lies the secret as to why he might find more success in the wake of this major championship than he did after the last one.
Swing changes aside, his struggles following the PGA title might have been more directly correlated to spending time in the spotlight. They may have been the effect of a player achieving success in a solitary pursuit, then being forced to constantly explain it.
Kaymer is older now, 29, and wiser to the ways of the world. He’s endured attention thrust upon him and witnessed it being hauled away. He is better prepared for the perpetual glaze of eyeballs staring at him wherever he goes.
He understands this, too. When asked about this prospect following his U.S. Open win, Kaymer just smiled knowingly.
Then he answered: “It’s not exhausting for me anymore.”