You were sidelined for two months after a go-cart injury late last year. How did that happen?
It happened in Phoenix. I went to go-cart track with a few guys. There was a guy behind me and a guy in front of me and the guy behind me pushed me at full power into the guy in front of me. I stayed in the car because of the seat belt but my foot was flipped back. I can’t really remember because the pain was insane. I broke three bones and my big toe was bent under the others so they had to rebreak it and set it. But the important thing for me is that my knee was OK. We know from Tiger Woods how long that takes to recover.
How disappointed did you feel when you were left off the 2008 Ryder Cup team?
I went to that Ryder Cup a special guest of [team captain] Nick Faldo. It sounds a little strange but I am so thankful he didn’t pick me as a wild card because it helped me so much just to be there and see what the atmosphere is like and learn what the whole tournament’s about. It was a good thing that I didn’t play. It was too early for me. 2008 was the first year I played all the majors, the WCG events and played more in America. I had a lot going on that year already and the Ryder Cup would have been the highlight of the year. After that week I knew that I was not ready for that stage. Now I know what I can expect and I really want to play there. Of course I was a little disappointed when Nick Faldo didn’t pick me, but after that week when I had been there and seen everything, I was happy he didn’t pick me.
What surprised you at Valhalla that year?
The golf was what I expected, but I didn’t realize the crowds would be so huge and so into it. They were freaking out sometimes and screaming at the players. It was like a soccer or football stadium. The atmosphere is unbelievable and I didn’t know that before. I hope I can play in it next year and experience it but now I know what to expect.
The fans are already thinking about the Ryder Cup. When do the players start taking it seriously?
After the U.S. Open — the second major. We have big tournaments in Europe at the beginning of the year so after the U.S. Open everybody has a proper look at the rankings and can see where he is standing and then it gets serious.
Culturally, how is golf different in Germany than the U.S.?
Like day and night. In Germany, we have only Bernard Langer. He’s the biggest golf hero we have. Obviously I’m trying to do my best to make golf bigger in Germany. But it’s a huge difference — you can’t compare it. Here in America golf is almost a national sport like baseball and football. In Germany we have soccer. That’s our biggest sport by far. But golf is growing and it would help a lot if Germany would get the Ryder Cup in 2018. The Olympics will obviously help too.
Beyond the Olympics and the Ryder Cup, what else could help grow the game in Germany?
I’m trying to win tournaments as much as I can, and I can see the media interest is increasing in Germany. I’m on TV much more in Germany. In my neighborhood, in my gym, people are coming up to me and saying, “Hey I started playing golf and it’s pretty cool.” To make golf bigger in Germany I have to win more tournaments and play better in majors. Maybe win one major, and play the Ryder Cup, hopefully this year. Those things would help golf become more familiar in Germany would help a lot.
If you won the Masters, would that be the front page of the sports section or would it still be soccer?
It would still be soccer, but if I won the Masters there would be a slightly bigger golf article. I would have to win the Masters and the Ryder Cup in the same year [Laughs]
What’s your relationship with German two-times Masters champion Bernard Langer like?
We played a few times together, and we have the same sponsor but we don’t talk every week or every month. I can’t say I have a close relationship with him. I’m friends with Alex Cjeka. He’s living in Vegas and I’m in Phoenix so we sometimes do things together. With Langer, he’s in Florida and he doesn’t come to Germany very often so I don’t see him a lot. I asked him a few questions during my first year on Tour and he would always help me. He took me out at Augusta for a practice round with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Those are the things that happen when you know someone like him.
Are you considering become a full-time member of the PGA Tour?
I’m looking at the PGA Tour, but not for 2010. Maybe 2011 but I would rather say 2012 because the way I’ve been playing has been really good for me. I play the big events in America and I play all the nice events in Europe so the way it is right now works out really well for me.
Are the European players closer than the American players?
I get along with the American players very well. My first year at Doral, Zach Jonson came up to me and said, “Hey, if there’s anything I can do to help you just let me know.” The players were very nice. I get along with Phil Mickelson very well — we’re members of the same golf club in Arizona. I wouldn’t say that Europeans are better or worse. You can’t say in general.
You had your best finish in a major at the 2009 PGA Championship (T6). Why haven’t we seen an under-25 major winner since Tiger Woods?
It’s like the Ryder Cup. You have to be ready for it. You don’t know what it feels like to be in the heat on Sunday afternoon to win a major, you don’t know it feels to have the putt for the Ryder Cup. We don’t know that. How can we know that when we just turned pro and played two or three years on the Challenge Tour and the Nationwide Tour? We don’t know those feelings and how we will react. It’s just a learning process. It’s just nature that we need the experience, so I’m not surprised Tiger Woods is the only one.
Are you ready now?
I think I’m on the right way, yeah.