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Martin Kaymer's rise signals, again, the international nature of the game of golf

Martin Kaymer leads the U.S. Open after an opening-round 65.
Al Tielemans/Sports Illustrated
Martin Kaymer leads the U.S. Open after an opening-round 65.

PINEHURST, N.C. – Years ago, a reporter asked Bernhard Langer who the best golfer in the short history of German golf was.

“It is I,” Bernhard said, with grammatical perfection, to say nothing of factual accuracy.

Yes, two Masters, and 75 other wins on various tours round the world, Bernhard Langer is the best golfer in the short history of German golf. And Martin Kaymer, technically of Germany, who shot 65 in a brilliant display of shot-making, course management and good putting, is never going to top him.

Not if he wins the U.S. Open this week. Not if he wins the next four majors. Not if he wins a hundred times around the world.    

That’s because there is no German golf anymore. There is Irish golf (Graeme McDowell, technically of Northern Ireland shot 68.) There is no Japanese golf. (Hideki Matsuyama, technically of Japan, also shot 68.) Go down the leaderboard. Everybody’s from somewhere.

Come Sunday night, there’s a roughly 30-70 chance that the winner of our national championship will not be a native-born American. And nobody is going to care. Just as nobody cared that Justin Rose, a native South African who grew up in England and lives in Florida, won last year’s U.S. Open.

The reason why Martin Kaymer cannot become the best golfer in the history of German golf is because nobody in golf cares about the boundaries anymore. You can talk about the World Golf Championships all you want, at Doral in March and in China in the fall and wherever else they bring that thing, but the fact is there are really two world golf championships, the U.S. Open World Golf Championship, being played at Pinehurst this week, and the British Open World Golf Championship, being played at Hoylake next month.

The greatness of the global game has elevated these two championships. To speak of Martin Kaymer as a German golfer is to diminish him. He is a golfer who just happens to be from Germany.

PHOTO GALLERY: The best photos of Martin Kaymer, Phil Mickelson at the 2014 U.S. Open

This year, more than ever, it is useful to think of these two majors as the crown jewels of world golf because they look like kissing cousins from opposite sides of the pond. Hoylake, when Tiger Woods won there in 2006, was about as brown and dry as an overcooked pancake and he was creating little dustbowls with every long iron he hit. Pinehurst, which will receive 15 million gallons of water this year in its new Coore-Crenshaw incarnation, and not the 50 million it used to need, isn’t nearly that brown, but it’s brown on the edges and if you looked at certain still pictures from the Thursday action you would not know on which continent they were taken. Whatever happens this week, it will not be the Englishman Tony Jacklin winning at the very lush Hazeltine National in 1970. Another world.

Nick Faldo has been saying for five years now that the players have fully embraced golf as a game without boundaries, but says the media has not. He’s surely correct about that. The media—TV especially—needs conflict, and nationalism creates boundaries with ruthless efficiency. Were you anywhere near a bar while Brazil defeated Croatia in the World Cup opener on Thursday? Those people watching and cheering and agitating, they care. But nobody cares the Francisco Molinari is technically of Italy. Regarding Kaymer, it is not that we are all Berliners. It’s not even that we are all Floridians. What it is is, We are all TrackManers.

When Kaymer went off yesterday afternoon with Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley, do you think the names Angela Merkel, Eric Cantor or Jay Gogue (the president of Dufner’s beloved Auburn) ever came close to being mentioned? Of course not. No, if these three golfers, all winners of the PGA Championship, are all really common ground at the end of the day.

LEADERBOARD: 2014 U.S. Open Round 1 scores

One tournament loses in this the-world-is-my-golf-course scenario, and it’s not the Masters. The Masters is a seen by the whole world and venerated by the whole world. No, the loser is the PGA Championship, run by the 27,000 men and women of the PGA of America. Of America? How about the PGA of the world?

The PGA of America has already figured out this problem and is on the planning stages of fixing it. The PGA is talking about taking its show overseas, maybe to Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland or Trump International in Scotland or Royal Melbourne in Australia.

It doesn’t really matter where, as long as the course is great and worthy. The players will find their way there. The fans and the TV crews and the reporters will follow the players. The world will get smaller. And it’s all good.

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