For a record five straight years, Tiger Woods sat atop the World Golf Rankings looking down at inferior competition. Merely acknowledging that Woods has had competition is an indirect compliment to Tiger in and of itself. Below him sat an array of sometimes-incapable underachievers.
As much as the media likes to make out the Woods-Mickelson rivalry to be legendary, it is simply no Hogan-Nelson, or Jones-Hagen, and it is certainly no Nicklaus-Palmer. This lack of competition has potentially placed as asterisk right below the 79 career victories and 12 majors on Tiger’s resume.
For years, golf enthusiasts all over the world have been waiting for the day that there would be new competition for the coveted spot. The media has eaten up the group of young guns, highlighted by Rory McIlroy’s smooth swing and Rickie Fowler’s smooth sense of style, who could potentially rise to the occasion.
At only 21 and 22 years of age, Rickie and Rory still have plenty of time to live up to their potential. But even if they’re unable to become the stars of the tour that everybody expects; they have already succeeded in changing the game of golf; although maybe not leaderboards just yet.
Rory, Rickie and even Ryo (it’s hard to not be loved by the media with names like that) have proved that golf is not just a game for old people anymore. The tour is no longer only about Tiger vs. Phil; the tour is young, and it’s a whole lot of fun.
Tiger’s run on top ended in October 2010, as he involuntarily gave up his throne. Although, at times his disastrous streak of duck hooks and three putts made it seem like he was doing it on purpose.
After a brief stint with Lee Westwood, the honor of being the World’s No. 1 fell into the hands of Martin Kaymer. Now, if I were to go out on the street and ask a casual golf fan, "Who is the number 1 player in the world?" I highly doubt I would get Martin Kaymer as an answer. In fact, I’m skeptical that your typical golf fan has heard of the 26-year-old German sensation.
At the 2011 Accenture Match Play, the site where he took over the top position of the World Golf Rankings, I caught Kaymer jogging off into the clubhouse a few hours after his round. A group of golf fanatics including myself called his name, and he jogged over to us despite appearing to be in a rush.
Even though he experienced a disappointing Sunday, he shook my hand, signed a few autographs and thanked us for the kind words. The German proved that he is as good of a person as he is a golfer, and despite my inner patriot that wants an American to be on top, I can’t help but root for the guy.
I have always been able to admire Tiger’s performance on the course, but have never cared for the man who has represented the sport I love for so many years (I felt this way before the scandal). As irrelevant as it is, there is some comfort in knowing that I approve of the way Kaymer handles himself after the 18th hole.
After turning professional 2005, Kaymer has coasted to the top of the World Golf Rankings, racking up 17 professional victories, including the 2010 PGA Championship, in the process. Seventeen professional victories is at 26 years of age is impressive enough (Phil had eight at 26), but No. 1 in the world is nearly unbelievable.
Three years ago, Ernie Els said on behalf of Kaymer, “You’ve got to watch this kid play. He’s going to be something. You’ll be seeing a lot of him.” If you watch the European Tour you have seen a lot of him, but here in America we haven’t been hearing much. Why?
Perhaps Kaymer just doesn’t have a niche. Tiger is African-American and intense, Phil is left-handed, Rickie wears orange, Ian dresses eccentrically (understatement of the century), Camilo does the “spider” and Bubba is, well, Bubba. But what does Kaymer have? Besides the ridiculous neck warmer he brought with him to Dove Mountain, and being the second German to be No. 1, there is not a lot to get excited about.
Quite frankly, good golf is boring golf: fairways, greens and not many mistakes. However, there is one thing that makes Martin an exciting to player to watch: he wins. After a few more inevitable victories in the states, Kaymer will become a household name if he isn’t already.
Although he can’t improve his World Golf Ranking, this week he has the opportunity to become more than just a household name. With a victory at Augusta this Sunday, Kaymer can show the believers that he truly is the real deal, and he can prove the naysayers that he is here to stay.
Kaymer has struggled at Augusta in the past (it is the only major in which he hasn’t made a cut), but because every facet of his game is so solid, he is hard to bet against.
Even without a victory this weekend, the German has proved that he deserves to be called the best player in the world. If we listened to Els three years ago, we would have been prepared for Kaymer to take the world of golf by storm. If we watch him play now, we know he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.