Martin Kaymer is leading the U.S. Open after posting a five-under-par 65 on a very difficult Pinehurst No. 2 on Thursday. His beautiful high fades found the fairways and allowed him to stay away from trouble on the firm, fast greens.
He reached the pinnacle of the Official World Golf Ranking in February 2011 by playing golf his way. However, after finishing runner-up to Luke Donald at the 2011 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, he became convinced that he needed to learn to draw the ball.
That set him on an odyssey of completely losing his golf swing and his game. After holding the No. 1 spot in the world for eight weeks, he fell down the world ranking.
He won four tournaments in 2010, three on the European Tour and the PGA Championship. He won twice more in 2011 but floundered in 2012 and 2013.
Kaymer shot 78-72 to finish 82nd in the 2011 Masters. In an interview after he missed the cut at Augusta, he admitted he made a mistake trying to change his swing, per PGA.com:
I hit draws on certain holes, low shots, high shots, try to place the ball always on the right side of the hole. It was just not me—it’s not the way I play.
The second day I went out to just play my game. Play the way I want to play the golf course and not how the course wants to be played. So I did that and it was better.
I need to play my game and it does not matter what course I play,” he continued. “Whether I play Augusta or Dusseldorf, it should never change my swing or my golf game or my strategy.
From 2008 to 2011, Kaymer finished inside the top 10 every year on the European Tour’s Race to Dubai. After the failed swing changes, he fell to No. 30 in 2012, even though he played a full schedule of 24 events in Europe.
In 2013, he accepted membership to the PGA Tour and split his time between Europe and America. He finished outside the top 10 in Europe again and ended the year at No. 103 in the FedEx Cup standings.
He seemed to be lost between two golf tours with low confidence and a golf game that was not producing results.
Giving up on the swing changes and going back to his old, comfortable fade has given him a new level of confidence on the golf course, and the results have been encouraging.
He has made nine cuts in 11 starts this season with two top-10 finishes, including a win at The Players Championship. He had only three top-10 finishes in 17 starts on the PGA Tour all of last year.
He is No. 24 in the FedEx Cup race and has earned over $2.3 million on the PGA Tour this year.
Kaymer is only 29 years old and has learned what Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus knew their whole careers.
High soft fades can be easily controlled and predicted. They are much easier to hit under pressure and are perfect for the difficult golf courses found in major championships.
Kaymer seems much more at ease with his game and played a great round on Thursday at the U.S. Open.
He is playing the golf course how he feels is required to maneuver his ball around the firm fairways and tricky greens of Pinehurst No. 2.
Three more solid rounds at Pinehurst could earn him a second major championship trophy.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials provided by the USGA, the PGA Tour or the PGA of America.