Questions for... Martin Kaymer

Questions for… Martin Kaymer

As the FedEx Cup playoffs begin outside New York City at the Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, New Jersey, Martin Kaymer is in Manhattan to talk with the media, shop for clothes and enjoy the city’s restaurants and nightlife. The PGA Championship winner was not eligible for the FedEx Cup Playoffs because he is not a member of the PGA Tour. On Tuesday afternoon after ringing the opening bell at the NASDAQ, the 25-year old native of Dusseldorf, Germany, dropped by the SI offices with his girlfriend, Allison Michelleti, and his agent, Johan Elliott.

What have you been doing since the PGA Championship?

Not a lot to be honest. I haven’t hit a golf ball since Sunday at the PGA. I was just trying to realize what happened. I was in Jamaica last week just relaxing. I was in the pool and on the beach.

Have you swung a club?
Yes. I stand in front of the mirror and make swings. I also need to watch the Golf Channel. I’m addicted to that.

After finishing seventh at the British Open and eighth at the U.S. Open, you must have felt pretty confident going into Whistling Straits?

Right away I felt very comfortable on the golf course. It didn’t play like a links course but it looked like one. It has a very European style that I really enjoyed. My short game was really good that week. I could read the greens very well. Sometimes you go on a golf course and you feel very comfortable on the greens.

Before you won the PGA Championship, most American golf fans associated golf in Germany with Bernhard Langer, a two-time Masters champion and presently the top-ranked player on the Champions Tour. Did the two of you have a conversation after the PGA?

He sent me a text message saying congratulations and that hopefully that the PGA is just one of many majors that I will win in my career. I only see him twice a year at the Masters and the BMW International in Germany. He lives in Florida and I live in Germany.

You seemed to have brought some of Langer’s reserve and calmness to your golf game.

I’m German. I’m a pretty conservative guy. I learned very early that it doesn’t help your game when you’re mad. It just hurts you. If you’re upset about the golf shot the next two or three holes it doesn’t help. I learned this lesson very earlier from my parents who wouldn’t allow my brother and I to break any clubs. To this day I have never broken a club, not even accidentally.

You had a very emotional win at the BMW International in 2008. Your mother was battling cancer and she died shortly after the tournament ended. Was that your biggest win until the PGA?

That was obviously a huge win for me. But field-wise the tournament that I won at Loch Lomond last year at the Scottish Open was my biggest win [before the PGA Championship]. It was a world-class field that included a lot of good American players.

What’s next for you now that you’re over the mountain of winning a major.

I hope that over the next few years that I will play as consistently as I did the last couple of years. One of my biggest goals I have is to win the British Open at St. Andrews. That would be pretty cool. When I turned pro in 2005 my goal was to win a major and play in the Ryder Cup and to be the No. 1 player in Europe. I can accomplish all three of those things this year.

I know that you plan to play more in the States next year, but how important is it for you to support the European Tour?
It’s very important that the European Tour and PGA Tour help each other out. Everybody struggles a little bit in these times of financial crisis. If the European Tour players can help out the PGA Tour and the PGA Tour help us out a little bit then I think both tours will be fine.

What do you think you will get out of your game from playing in the States?
I can see that when I play in America, especially in Florida, it’s different grass than what I’m accustomed to playing in Europe. So I think I can improve my results over here by playing more tournaments, especially on the different grasses, where you learn different kinds of golf shots. I think I can also learn a lot as a person from my playing on the PGA Tour.

In Florida you will be playing on Bermuda grass. Talk about the differences from that grass and the bent grass you play in Europe.
When the European Tour goes to Spain we play on the Bermuda, but it’s not like in Florida. In Europe we don’t really play with grain. On the Bermuda greens you have to read the grain sometimes more than you do the break. When you have a putt that’s left-to-right, the Bermuda grass might be growing in the opposite direction.

At the end of last season you broke your foot in a go-cart accident. Did you learn a lesson from that experience and are you riding the go-carts less now?

After my surgery I couldn’t play golf. And I think four or five months later I was back on the go-cart. But I drove like a little girl.

Does this mean you take it easy on the Autobahn?
I’m German so I like fast cars. I’m sponsored by BMW so I drive a 2010 M3. It’s a manual with a Techtronic on the steering wheel with 330 horsepower. It can get up to 170-180 miles per hour in a matter of seconds.

German golf fans could only see the PGA Championship on Sky TV, a pay network. What’s the state of golf in the country?
We used to have four European Tour events in Germany, but this year we only had one, the BMW in Munich. It will be huge for us if we were to get the Ryder Cup in 2018. But obviously soccer is the biggest sport that we have.

Does it bother you that many people will remember your PGA Championship more for the two-stroke penalty that was assessed to Dustin Johnson on the 72d hole than the fact that you won the tournament on a tough scoring day in a three-hole playoff?
It was like 1999 when Paul Lawrie won the British Open after Jean Van de Velde made the mistakes on the last hole. I think when a lot of people talk about that British Open they talk about Van de Velde. I have no influence on this kind of thinking. Obviously everybody wished that Dustin wouldn’t have made the mistake. He deserved to be in the playoff. It was tough for me and Bubba [Watson] to see that. You never want to see a colleague penalized like this. But for me at the end of the day it didn’t matter to me if I played one or two golfers.

It was probably overlooked in the aftermath of Dustin’s fiasco, but you had to make a 15-footer for par on the 72nd hole to just get in the playoff.

It took my caddie and I a long time to read that putt. I had made that putt many times in the practice rounds. Because we knew that the pin was going to be there one day. We had putted it from many angles. It was a right-to-left downhill putt that was very fast. But it was difficult to see because it was in the shadow. For 17 holes all the greens had been in the sun until the last hole. I hit a pure stroke and I just waited to hear the roar of the crowd. It was a pretty cool feeling.

On the last playoff hole with Bubba you both are in the right rough. What were you thinking as you got to your ball?

I was very surprised when I saw Bubba pulling out a long club because I had 215 yards to the flag and he was about 15 to 20 yards behind me. So he had about 230 yards over that ditch. I was expecting him to hit it on that right side and if he got a flyer it would roll on the green. I was never expecting him to go for the flag. So once he hit it in the water I think it would have been stupid for me to go for it. I would have needed some luck to get over the water and I didn’t want to rely on that. I knew that the best that he could do was a five and by laying up I knew I could give myself a chance to make a par and make no worse than a five.

What do you know about Celtic Manor in Wales, the site of the Ryder Cup in October?

It’s a very long golf course. It’s not going to be the best weather in Wales. The golf course sits down in a little valley. But it’s built for the Ryder Cup.

Do you believe in all the hype about the European team being the favorite?

We have a good team but it’s match play. When we play stroke play, you take the players that we have this year and the players that the Americans have and take the average score, I think we would score better. But it’s not all about that.

This will be your first Ryder Cup as player but two years ago Nick Faldo let you tag along with the team at Valhalla because he knew you would soon be a star on the European side.
I went to all the team meetings and dinners and functions. But I didn’t feel like I belonged there. Now it’s my time. It’s very exciting for me and my family.

When are you playing next?

I’m playing in Holland at the KLM Open in September. Then I’ll go practice in Phoenix for a couple of weeks before the Ryder Cup. I had been playing a lot of golf for the last few months coming into the PGA. Too much. I wanted to make the Ryder Cup so bad.

When do you practice?

I like to go out to the range early in the morning when the sun comes up. You can hear the birds and no one else is there. This is very relaxing for me.