Medinah hero Kaymer poised for US return
“I knew I had a putt to win it, and that was enough. It never crossed my mind that I would miss it. I didn’t really have a choice – it was about winning or losing and that was fantastic. I was just focussed on one little piece in the hole. And then I put the putter down. And then I hit it.”
Four years have passed since Martin Kaymer strode into Ryder Cup folklore as the man who applied the finishing touches to the greatest comeback in the storied history of the transatlantic contest, an epic battle that will forever be known as the ‘Miracle at Medinah’.
Having famously trailed 10-6 in Chicago following a dominant first two days from Davis Love III’s American troops, José María Olazábal’s European side came flying out of the blocks in the Sunday singles on a sun-speckled autumn afternoon in Illinois.
After wins in the first five matches out from Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Paul Lawrie, and with a blue tide flooding the leaderboards around Medinah, further points were added by Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood leaving Kaymer a seven-foot putt on the 18th green to defeat Steve Stricker and claim the all-important point.
Out of form and low in confidence after being dropped on the Saturday, the German banished any negative thoughts and found the bottom of the cup, sparking delirious, champagne-soaked victory celebrations.
“I found myself in a position to make something amazing happen, not only for my career, but for the history of European golf and of The Ryder Cup,” Kaymer reflected. “That really means a lot to my heart. That is a wonderful possibility to play golf under those circumstances.”
There was a significant contribution, too, in his Ryder Cup debut two years earlier – but it didn’t come easy.
Despite winning his maiden Major title little more than a month earlier at the 2010 US PGA Championship, Kaymer has since admitted he found his rookie experience at Celtic Manor a thoroughly daunting experience.
That wet week in Wales, then just 25 years old, Kaymer managed to combat the expected nerves by claiming 2½ points from four matches and, erudite and astute as ever, he has some advice for this year’s six-strong rookie contingent.
“In my first Ryder Cup I was new, I was a little insecure about the whole situation,” he said. “I was very glad to play with Westwood and with Poulter because they really played well and had so much confidence and knowledge.
“I know how difficult it is to play as a rookie and it is very important to play a lot of practice rounds and perhaps a first match alongside an experienced player.
“But it depends on what sort of rookie they are – whether they embrace it or are scared of it. They need to have confidence, they need to believe they should be there. They need to have passion and put their hearts into it.”
After a nervous start in 2010 and a gallant role in 2012, the Dusseldorf native travelled to Gleneagles in 2014 on the back of a brilliant year of golf.
Kaymer, comfortable in his skin and something of a veteran by this point, claimed two points from four matches in Scotland, including a superb 4 and 2 victory over Bubba Watson in the singles, as Europe romped to a 16½-11½ triumph.
“I think once you experience the beauty and the pressure and the whole atmosphere of The Ryder Cup, you embrace it,” he said.
“It was a lot different in 2014 compared to the others because I was playing such good golf – I had a lot of confidence from the way I won the Players and the US Open.
“I was very much in control and I could carry that confidence into Gleneagles. That was certainly the most enjoyable Ryder Cup I have played in.”
For the first time in his career, Kaymer required a captain’s pick from Darren Clarke at the tail-end of August in order to make his fourth appearance in the blue and gold of Europe at Hazeltine this year.
His record throughout the qualification process, however, was highly consistent, missing just three cuts in 28 worldwide appearances during the 12 month race. Indeed, Kaymer claimed nine top ten finishes in the points window with six of those coming in the last four months so his place in the 2016 side is clearly well-merited.
Golf is inherently an individualistic sport, but there is a camaraderie unique to The Ryder Cup. Now confirmed and ready to rock once again, you get the sense that the 31 year old relishes the special family atmosphere that the contest continually elicits and, furthermore, that he believes Team Europe’s greatest strength lies in its cast-iron union.
“I think it was Bubba Watson who said a very true thing once, that you need to become friends first in order to become a proper team,” he said. “I don’t know about the Americans but in our teams we get along very well and we care in a very honest way. As an individual you need to succeed but there is a different environment, a different spirit. Everyone has to help each other.
“You have to be social which in our very individual sport is a little different. You need to help your team-mates, you need to talk about your weaknesses and your strengths, you need to be honest and forego your ego. It’s all about the team.”
Like European team-mate Rory McIlroy, who also made his Ryder Cup bow at Celtic Manor six years ago, Kaymer is this year going for fourth straight win in as many appearances in the biennial clash – not to mention his second on away soil.
Ice cool, meticulous, courageous and focussed, you wouldn’t bet against Kaymer reprising his hero role at Hazeltine next week.
“I haven’t been on a Ryder Cup team that has lost anywhere yet – that must be a horrible feeling,” Kaymer continued. “It is never easy to deliver and while winning in Europe is of course great, if you win against the Americans in America there is something about that that makes it even more special.
“It is the biggest event in our sport and yes, I am really, really excited.”
Hear, hear, Martin…