PINEHURST, N.C. — Greatness may be impressive, but it isn’t always exciting. Martin Kaymer made that clear when he took the U.S. Open, supposedly the most difficult of golf tournaments, and turned it into a boring romp.
There was no drama in this tournament. No Tiger Woods, either. But we can’t blame Kaymer, the 29-year-old German, for the Woods absence. Only for the rout.
Starting the first round and marching relentlessly to Sunday’s final round, Kaymer gave the most one-sided exhibition of the Royal and Ancient game since, well, Rory McIlroy three years ago at Congressional.
McIlroy won the 2011 Open by eight strokes. Kaymer won the 2014 Open at Pinehurst No. 2, by, yes, eight strokes.
His one-under 69, which included a two and six threes on the card, gave him a nine-under total of 271.
He also became the third non-American in four years to win America’s Open, after McIlroy, the Northern Irishman, and Justin Rose, the Englishman, in 2013.
Two days earlier, Kaymer said he didn’t know how McIlroy could take control of Congressional and that Open. Sunday, McIlroy said he didn’t know Kaymer could do the same with this Open.
“I’m wondering how he did it,” said McElroy, who finished 15 behind. “It’s tough. I think I made a total of nine birdies this week. To do what he was doing—I think it’s nearly more impressive than what I did at Congressional.”
The debate, lighthearted, starts shortly, but as McIlroy at Congressional, Kaymer was in front wire-to-wire—never tied. Only five other golfers have accomplished that. One of them, named Woods, did it twice in 2000 and 2002.
Kaymer won the PGA Championship in 2010, and with this Open win becomes one of seven golfers to take a second major under the age of 30. He also made the winning putt for the European team in the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club, outside Chicago.
This hero stuff may not be old hat but neither does it have Kaymer leaping around the green—although he did throw his hands in the air when the last putt trickled into the cup.
When someone in the post-tournament interview wondered of Kaymer if he had played the “best four rounds of your life,” he was almost stunned.
“Of my life?” he asked rhetorically. “I mean, it’s a big statement.”
To be sure, but it was made about a very big victory in America’s national championship.
“But I would say it was probably the toughest day that I played golf today," Kaymer said. "Especially the first nine. Because if you have two or three Americans chasing you, playing in America, it's never easy being a foreigner. But I said at the ceremony as well, that the fans were very fair. But it was a tough one.”
He hit a few balls into the sandy wastes off the fairway, where before the course restoration deep rough flourished. He bogeyed three holes, but he birdied four, including 13 and 14 to lock up the tournament.
“If you lead by five shots, it's not easy,” Kaymer said. “A lot of people think, well you have a little bit of a cushion, but if you approach that day in that way, with that attitude, it can be gone so quickly.
“For me the challenge was to keep going, to stay aggressive, make birdies, go for some flags, and don't hold back. And it's very difficult to do, because at some stage you get a little bit tight and you want to—your body tells you, you know, you should take it easy. I overcame that feeling, I stayed aggressive, and I played very brave. So I'm very proud of that.”
He ought to be. He transformed the Open into a "closed" tournament. Golfers such as Phil Mickelson (who came in tied for 28th, 16 shots back) were in awe of Kaymer’s domination. Mickelson, who’s finished second six times in the Open, naturally said he thought someday he would win.
Champion athletes think positively, and Kaymer unquestionably is a champion athlete. Now that he has two major titles and is a former No. 1-ranked player, he'll be expected to continue to contend at the sport's biggest events.
“Well, you know, it shouldn't sound cocky or arrogant, but I knew it would come,” he said after being asked about a decline in his game because of a swing change.
“I knew that I would play good golf again. There was enough belief there. I just didn't think it would take me that much time to get back where I was, or actually not where I was. I think I play better golf now, I'm more of a complete player, it was just a matter of time.”
It’s not a surprise, Kaymer explained, that he could play quality golf. This year he also won The Players, a tournament some erroneously label the fifth major.
“So it's not a huge surprise to me that I played good golf, it's just a surprise that I won such big tournaments. That's a surprise. But I'll take it.”
Art Spander, winner of the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism from the PGA of America, has covered over 150 major golf championships. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.