PINEHURST, N.C. — For most of the afternoon, for most of the tournament, really, Martin Kaymer’s only real competition was himself.
Not everyone is up to that challenge.
Kaymer is not the first golfer to experience success right out of the box, hit a lull in mid-career, and then summon up the guts to overhaul his swing. But he’s one of the few who wound up holding a major championship trophy in both the before and after photos.
If you watched only snippets of the U.S. Open, it was easy to get the impression Kaymer was the only player in it. There are plenty of numbers to detail his dominance, but the final one is enough. Kaymer’s 9-under 271 total left his closest pursuers — Erik Compton and Rickie Fowler, the only other players to finish in the red — a grasping-at-air eight shots behind.
Before he went out each day and put on a clinic on how to play a restored Pinehurst No. 2 layout, the TV cameras showed Kaymer on the practice range, a tennis ball hanging from a lanyard around his neck. As teaching aids go, it didn’t look like much.
But before each swing, he squeezed the ball between his forearms, trying to feel that pressure all the way to the top of his backswing instead of having to think about it too much.
Small wonder, then, that when someone asked afterward why he undertook the change, Kaymer replied: “I’ve answered that question so many times. Honestly, I get tired of it, I’m sorry. But I just want to become a complete player, that’s it.”
And he left it at that.
There’s more to that story, of course. Kaymer won the 2010 PGA Championship with a fade-only swing he honed as a youngster, the same one that helped him climb up the ranks of the European Tour in a hurry. He got to No. 1 in the world the following season with it, too. But a slow slide down the ranking — Kaymer was at No. 63 as recently as six weeks ago — coupled with a frustrating inability to compete at the Masters, over an Augusta National course that favors players who can draw the ball, convinced Kaymer he had to tear down his old swing and learn to move the ball both ways.