Drawn to Greatness: The Martin Kaymer Golf Magazine Interview

October 20, 2014

Talk to Martin Kaymer about his game and the same words keep spilling from his lips. "Discipline" pops up often. "Controlled" is popular, too. Also "planning." Definitely "planning." So when Kaymer decided to reengineer his swing after winning the 2010 PGA Championship and reaching No. 1 in the world, he made this weighty decision only after thinking it through from every angle. The results weren't immediate—in 2013, his ranking fell outside the top 40—but he stuck to the plan.

Proof that he'd finally grooved his new move came with his 1-stroke Players Championship win in May. Then there was his tour de force at Pinehurst No. 2, an 8-stroke U.S. Open romp over Erik Compton and Rickie Fowler. Although Kaymer, 29, apologized to the media that there wasn't more to talk about, his mastery was hardly boring—especially not in the third round when he roped a draw from a scary, hairy lie to make eagle. He'd fixed a chink in his armor that only he knew was there. Like we said: discipline.

After winning at Pinehurst, you predicted Germany would beat the Americans 3-1 in the World Cup. Your home country won, but the final score was 1-0. What other predictions have you gotten wrong? Have you been surprised by the way your career has unfolded?

[Laughs] I'm happy to be wrong about that prediction, as Germany brought home the cup and soccer received lots of attention in the U.S., which is great. How have I been surprised? Hard to say, as I am happy to stand here as a two-time major champion at the age of 29. I am sort of surprised about that, but then again, not. We all know what we are capable of. We all have goals and dreams. So far I have been able to realize a few of these.

At Pinehurst you spoke of the importance of not comparing one round to the next. Is it also important not to compare yourself to other players, like Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy–or the career of your mentor Bernhard Langer?

Absolutely. You can't control what others do. I can only do my best and work at making the most out of my abilities. Cliché, maybe, but so it is. You're tempted to compare yourself to everyone you play with, every single week, whether he's fourth in the world or 400th.

You were young, just 21, when you moved to Scottsdale to live by yourself and play year-round. Did you cook for yourself? Did your parents visit much?

I never truly moved, but I started going there for practice in the wintertime. Because of where I was in my career, there wasn't much going out for dinner. Let's just say I perfected spaghetti with ketchup and bratwurst! I was on my own most of the time.

Your big brother, Philip, was there all week at Pinehurst, and he sent you what you described as an emotional text the morning of the final round of the Players. When did you first beat him?

I don't remember when I first beat him. What's more important is that we have always been very competitive—in a good way. We competed at everything. Still do, although it isn't so serious. I am very, very fortunate to have him as my brother.

How many months of the year do you spend in Scottsdale, and how many in Düsseldorf?

I don't spend that much time in any one place during the year. I try to spend a bit more time in Germany. I miss home from traveling so much.

At Pinehurst you spoke of how much you like to be in control, which was why you took your time to be very thorough with your answers to the media after your rounds. Why are you so adamant about control?

Planning—and to a certain extent, controlling the outcome—is something I look for. When it comes to the media room, it's important to make sure that I am understood correctly. With English being my second language, it is easy to be misunderstood. I have the privilege to spend time with you guys and thereby potentially inspire the younger generations. I therefore think it is of great importance that you, and therefore they, understand me and what I believe in.

What film or book has made an impact on you and relates to what you believe in?

Men of Honor with Cuba Gooding, Jr. It was about discipline and pride and fighting for something, and winning.

Speaking of winning with discipline, as much as you dominated at the U.S. Open, your countryman Langer won the Senior British Open by even more strokes.

[Laughs] I texted him: "Eight shots is good, but 13 is a little better."

You don't win the Players and the U.S. Open without being mentally tough. How did you get that way?

It has to do with how your parents raised you, your values, your education, the way you are as a person. I enjoy the challenges. I look forward to them, to see how well I can do.

Is it safe to assume that the most pressure you've ever felt was at the 2012 Ryder Cup, standing over the clinching 6-foot putt? And how can the rest of us better cope with pressure situations?

Pressure, expectation, responsibility—it was a lot of those things. It was difficult to handle, but at the same time that putt was a huge boost to my career. I was lucky to have been given that opportunity. You have a choice over a big putt or big shot: You can be scared of it, or you can embrace it. At the end of the day, it's just golf. It's a game that you play with yourself—dealing with how your body changes and your mind changes depending on situations. I really enjoy that.

You won the PGA Championship in 2010 and became No. 1 in the world for eight weeks. Then you decided to revamp your swing. Knowing what you know now–your ranking fell, you took a lot of criticism–would you do it all the same way?

Sure, for the same reason I did it in 2011. I had to do it for myself. I didn't feel comfortable being on top of the world but feeling the way I did about my golf.

But surely you can understand why some people said you were a little nuts. After all that success, can you see why some thought that changing your swing seemed like a dangerous thing to do? If it ain't broke, why fix it?

But that's just it—the critics are not me. I have to live with myself. What works for them would not necessarily work for me, and vice versa. Again, that is why I'm happy to answer questions where I'm able to explain myself and my thinking, instead of people judging and making assumptions without knowing me and how I function.

Were there moments when you felt doubts about the swing changes?

I didn't doubt that I would get there. I have trust in my coach, Gunter Kessler, and I wanted to make the changes. It's trust, belief and being disciplined in your work ethic.

What shot can you hit now that you couldn't hit five years ago?

I was never able to hit a draw, but now I can hit a draw without a problem, so that was the biggest thing.

If someone watched Martin Kaymer from, say, 2009 hit balls, then watched you on the range today, what difference would be noticeable?

You wouldn't see anything with the naked eye. It's very subtle, but my swing is more on-plane and not as outside-inside as it was then.

Kaymer's par-saving bomb on Sawgrass' island green propelled him to victory at the Players.

Word is, you changed your swing to become more competitive at Augusta, which is said to favor a right-to-left shot shape. Is a draw that important at Augusta? After all, Jack Nicklaus played a fade, and he had a pretty good record there.

Augusta looks very different today compared to when Mr. Nicklaus won his titles. Sure, you can win with "just" hitting a fade, but being able to also hit a draw makes it a lot easier to play the course. The course wants you to draw it on a few occasions.

You were once quoted as saying that it was a "big mistake" to try to change your swing for Augusta. Would you like to take that back?

I was misunderstood. I never said it was a mistake. I never said I changed my swing solely for the Masters. I said the course would be much easier to play if I could hit a proper draw and a fade. But I decided to add to my repertoire of shots because I felt I should be able to play more shots, being one of the best golfers in the world—especially when I became No. 1.

You never came close to winning in 2013 and had just three top 10s. What clicked for you this year? How do you explain that six-week stretch, winning the Players and the U.S. Open?

It's easily explained. I worked very, very hard for a few years, and this spring I reached a point where the work was done. I was able to let go and just play again.

Describe the moment where your swing finally clicked and your mini-slump was over.

It was during a round of golf with Gunter. He had me hit one draw, one straight, and one fade off of every tee. After that, he asked if I'd noticed how well I'd played. I hadn't, but after going through the shots and the result, I did realize it. The penny dropped. I had proof. I was able to do everything I wanted to. That's when I felt, okay, now I can go out and just play.

What can the average golfer learn from your swing changes?

It's important to relax over the ball. Being tense, and therefore stiff, hampers your motion. You will hit better shots relaxing. For most people, it feels like giving up control, but you actually gain control this way.

What's the single most important golf tip you ever received?

Play with your instinct.

If you'd missed that 28-foot par putt that you holed at No. 17 on Sunday at Sawgrass and lost the Players, do you think you'd have still won the U.S. Open?

It's not worth thinking about, is it? I made that putt. I won the U.S. Open. And that is that.

But don't you ever think "What if"?

The only time I thought "what if" was the week after the 2012 Ryder Cup. I was walking down the first at St. Andrews during a practice round for the Dunhill Links, and people were fantastic toward me. They all thanked me for what I had given them in terms of joy when making the putt. All of sudden, I thought: "What would they have said if I had missed it?"

Looking at the career grand slam, you're two down, two to go. Is your game better suited for the Masters or the British Open?

All I know is that every year, I like Augusta more and more, and the same goes for links golf. I am very much looking forward to 2015. I can't think of anything better than to give myself a chance to win the Open Championship at St. Andrews.

The off-season comes first. How much social golf do you play? Do you enjoy it?

I very much enjoy playing with my brother, father and friends. I rarely get the chance to do so. Therefore those rounds are very special.

Do you work on parts of your game when you play social golf? And do you give strokes to your pals?

[Laughs] Of course I give strokes! That's the beauty of golf. No matter what level we are all on, we can play together. If I am working on something, I also work on it when playing socially.

What's left for Martin Kaymer to achieve?

A lot. My focus lies on the majors.

Just a guess: You'll be doing a lot of planning between now and April.

A lot, definitely. A lot of planning.