PONTE BEDRA BEACH, Fla. – There’s an old saying that a golfer thinks his way around his golf course. Germany’s Martin Kaymer is thriving by doing the opposite.
“Too much thinking is crap,” he said in explaining his course record-tying 63 Thursday.
On Friday, Kaymer continued his clear-minded attack. He snuggled a gap wedge at the famed 17th island green at TPC Sawgrass within 5 feet of the back hole location and made the birdie putt on his way to a 69 and a 36-hole total of 12-under 132 at The Players Championship.
Afterward, Kaymer clarified that he hasn’t quite gone brain dead out there. “Well, let’s put it this way, I’m not trying to think too much,” he said. “I still need to think once in a while.”
Take, for instance, the way he’s handled 17 (so far), a hole known for giving players nightmares, cold sweats, and heartburn. A day earlier, Kaymer and Darren Clarke, who was playing in his group, both struck pitching wedges safely aboard the 17th, but past the hole.
“I said to Darren, ‘Wrong club, but the right shot.’ So it’s a smart play, but without the water we would always hit a gap wedge.
“This time we were a lot more brave. We really went for the shot. Yesterday, we were a little like a wimp, but it was smart. It was the right shot.
When asked the German word for wimp, Kaymer answered, “Weichei. It’s a soft ‘a.’ ”
There’s been nothing soft or wimpy, for that matter, about the form of the former World No. 1 player through two rounds at The Players. The bigger question is what has happened to his game since he won the PGA Championship in 2010? The short answer is Kaymer became obsessed with learning to work the ball from right-to-left. Not since Lee Trevino has a golfer left Augusta National, where he missed the cut his first four times playing the Masters, so baffled by the course.
“I had no idea how it feels to hit a draw,” he said.
So Kaymer undertook a thorough reappraisal of his technique, and re-tooled his golf swing under the tutelage of coach Gunther Kessler. A funny thing happened in the process. In learning to hit a draw, he’d become too mechanical and the predictable fade he’d mastered deserted him. He tried too hard to play what he called “perfect golf.”
“I think it’s because of where I’m from, in Germany, we always look for perfection,” he said. “This is just in my nature, I think.”
Many pundits said it was foolish to tinker with a swing that had won him a major. It was Bernhard Langer who advised him to ignore his detractors.
“You should never criticize anybody for trying to get better,” Langer said.
Kaymer also was overwhelmed with the responsibilities associated with being the top-ranked player.
“You are the best in the world so why didn’t you win?” said Kaymer, recounting the pressure he felt. “It’s very difficult to deal with all those things.”
Winless since 2012, Kaymer has slid to No. 61 in the World Rankings. Through hard work and good old-fashioned tenacity, Kaymer rediscovered his swing.
“The feel of the fade was just somewhere sleeping in me,” he said.
As for the draw? When he needs it, he can hit it. “Sometimes,” he said, with a smile.
Kaymer brushed off talk about regaining the No. 1 ranking. First, he said, he needs to get back into contention, something he did last week at the Wells Fargo Championship until ballooning to a 75. His goal is more immediate.
“Try to win the tournament first,” he said.
And if he does get back to No. 1, how will his past experience help him?
“I hope I get there and I can answer that question, but I don’t know yet. I think I’m better prepared for sure and it will be a lot easier,” he said, before adding, “I’m 100 percent sure I will handle it better.”