It’s time to revise the debate about who the best golfer under the age of 30 is.
Martin Kaymer shuffled that deck in a big way Sunday with one of the most dominating U.S. Open triumphs of this century.
Tiger Woods was better while winning at 12 under in 2000, and Rory McIlroy was a record-setting 16 under in 2011, but Kaymer can take a place right alongside them after finishing nine under and winning by a whopping eight strokes.
Kaymer’s German roots and machine-like march to victory beg for comparisons to the company whose logo is on his game-day shirts—Mercedes-Benz.
He looked like a product of German engineering precision while joining Woods and McIlroy on the short list of seven players who have won wire to wire in 114 U.S. Opens.
No one ever got closer than four shots of Kaymer’s lead over the last 48 holes, and with his 30th birthday still six months away, he’s one of the few players to win two majors before reaching the big three-o.
“I was playing for second,” conceded Erik Compton in his interview with NBC, after tying with Rickie Fowler for second. “I think we all were playing for second.”
Only three players broke par for the tournament, though it might be more accurate to say Fowler and Compton fractured par at one under while Kaymer thoroughly bulldozed it.
Said NBC golf analyst Johnny Miller, looking back on Kaymer’s red-hot start, “He basically demolished the field after his two 65s.”
Keegan Bradley was in Kaymer’s group for those two rounds that led to a U.S. Open-record 130 for 36 holes. Naturally, he was impressed.
“He's a guy that is really tough,” Bradley told reporters at his Sunday press conference. “If you got him in a Ryder Cup match or coming down the end of a tournament, he's probably a guy you would rather not face. He's tough and he's very, very good, obviously.”
Who's the best under-30 golfer?
But now the question is whether Kaymer’s revamped swing can continue to dominate golf the way he has so far this year.
He’s the only player to win The Players Championship and the U.S. Open in the same year, and he'll no doubt be the favorite heading into the British Open in Liverpool next month.
The only other golfers who have won the PGA Championship, The Players and the U.S. Open are Jack Nicklaus, Woods, Lee Trevino and Raymond Floyd.
And since the world rankings began in 1986, only four other players have won two majors and also had a run as the world No. 1 before the age of 30—Woods, McIlroy, Ernie Els and Seve Ballesteros, according to The Associated Press' Doug Ferguson (via The Sacramento Bee).
As for the under-30 debate, the multitalented McIlroy probably still leads the pack at the age of 25. But he gave Kaymer a big nod.
“I think it's nearly more impressive than what I did at Congressional,” McIlroy told reporters at his press conference while comparing his 2011 U.S. Open to Kaymer’s.
McIlroy also said Kaymer appears much more formidable now than he did after his previous peak, when he won the 2010 PGA Championship and then claimed the world No. 1 ranking for eight weeks in 2011.
McIlroy told reporters that Kaymer’s TPC win “was huge for him, huge for his confidence.”
While it wasn’t a big factor, Kaymer also played knowing he wasn’t the crowd favorite. That role was shared by Americans Fowler, who was attired in all orange, and Compton, the amazing survivor of two heart transplants.
A couple of times, there was applause from the gallery when the German’s shots took a bad bounce or were simply off target, but there was no sign that it annoyed Kaymer or even registered with him.
The U.S. Open victory also validates Kaymer’s decision to retool his swing and make adjustments he hopes will make him a threat at all four majors, particularly the Masters. Not many players would make that kind of stern self-appraisal after winning a major.
Now, I’d put Kaymer ahead of 29-year-old Dustin Johnson in the under-30 conversation. Johnson has eight PGA Tour titles but no majors.
Fowler continues to be on the fringe of that argument as he looks for his first victory in a major, but at least he has now been a runner-up in one. And Jordan Spieth figures to get a lot of attention in that argument, having contended at the Masters and the TPC this year as a 20-year-old.
But Kaymer could take control of that conversation with another big win, and he clearly has the perfect demeanor for golf’s biggest stages.
He showed no emotion on the three wayward shots that led to his three bogeys during a final-round 69. That doesn’t make for great television viewing, but it gets the job done.
Kaymer’s best moment of the day was burying a 30-foot putt on No. 14, which gave him back-to-back birdies and led even the NBC crew to admit that the championship’s outcome was settled.
At no point in the final round did anyone mount anything even vaguely resembling a charge, thanks in part to the fickle greens and the abundance of sand on Pinehurst No. 2. Even so, Kaymer didn’t seem to relax until his walk up the 18th fairway, when he smiled broadly while talking to Fowler as they headed for the final green.
And after this show, one guesses he will have many more reasons to smile as his future unfolds.
Tom Weir covered several majors as a columnist for USA Today.