Martin Kaymer rolled in birdies in his last four holes to tie the course record, firing a sizzling nine-under 63 at TPC Sawgrass. He holds a two-shot lead in the first round of The Players Championship over Russell Henley. The 29-year-old German also broke the front nine (he teed off no. 10) scoring record with a seven-under 29.
“I didn’t make many mistakes today, which was nice,” said Kaymer in his post-round presser. “I think I missed only one fairway, which was on 16. So, overall ballstriking was very good.
“Fortunately I could take advantage of some putts on my back nine, on the front nine, on the golf course. It was just a very, very good round of golf.”
Kaymer only missed one green, as well, and just needed 27 putts.
Since capturing his first (and only) major at the 2010 PGA Championship, he hasn’t won in the U.S., but he secured titles at the 2011 Abu Dhabi Championship and the 2011 WGC-HSBC Champions. He briefly held the no. 1 ranking in the world for eight weeks in early 2011.
Then, he endured a slump of sorts that’s lasted the past two-three years — Kaymer became convinced he couldn’t contend at Augusta National for the Masters if he couldn’t hit a draw, so he went through some swing changes that he’s been battling ever since. It appears that the modifications are finally starting to pay off and he’s rounding back into form.
Why and how? That’s easy — he stopped thinking.
“That’s pretty much the bottom line,” said Kaymer. “I thought a lot the last two years about swing changes, about this and this, that every shot I made I reflect on it, what I did wrong, what I did right, and then I think a couple weeks before the Masters I worked a little with my coach. He came to Phoenix, and then I went to Germany the week before, and we had a good session.
“And then it just clicked a little bit that I thought, okay, I know I can hit pretty much every shot when I needed to hit it. If it’s a draw, if it’s a fade, low or high, I know that I can do it. It’s just a matter of getting the confidence on the golf course and then letting it happen and really doing it…I just trust myself a lot more, and I stopped my thinking.”
It took him a while to get to that point, though.
“Well, the first year I wasted a little bit I would say because I was distracted by too much what was going on off the golf course, with being No. 1 in the world and all those things,” said Kaymer. “I think I didn’t have enough energy to really focus on the main thing because I was doing a lot of other things, which was okay afterwards because then it was just part of the whole process, I think.
“And then the last 12, 18 months, or let’s say after the first 12 months, the second year, I was working very, very hard to get back, and then it took me maybe another six to eight months after this to stop thinking, stop trying to play perfect golf, and I think that’s the key in the end because it’s the reason why everybody is on the PGA Tour out here.
“At one stage we played really good golf. We trusted ourselves. We almost didn’t need a caddie, we didn’t need a coach. It was all within ourselves. We had it all. We just need to find a way to get it out and let it happen, and that is what I noticed the last four or five weeks, that those things come out. I trust myself a lot and I hit a lot of good golf shots. Obviously you screw up here and there once in a while, but it’s okay. You can’t hit perfect shots all the time. It’s about acceptance and trusting, and it’s really nice to play golf like this.”
Prior to the swing changes, Kaymer just played golf and trusted his instincts — which is something he’s finally returned to doing.
“I didn’t think much,” he said, referring to the years when he first turned pro. “I just played. I really loved, and I still love the game. I think it’s only distracting if you think too much and if you try to play perfect golf. But when you change, you have to think automatically. You need to reflect and you want to improve, you want to get to the goal a lot earlier, and then sometimes you can get caught up in the thinking process.
“So you need to go back where you came from, and that’s just it’s feel, it’s your natural shot. It’s the fade, so it is my shot, accept it, it’s my shot, so go with it. You don’t need to hit perfect golf shots all the time. But for me it was just important to be a complete player, and that’s why I need to change and I need to think, and now it’s over fortunately.”
What does thinking too much mean exactly?
“If you don’t play with your feel, with your instinct,” explained Kaymer. “I can say confidently that I can hit any shot. It’s just a matter of if you can handle the pressure, if you can hit the right shot at the right time when you need to. That’s the tough part. But everybody out here on the PGA Tour can hit any shot really if they want to.
“It’s just a matter of really making it happen when you have to, and that is something that you need to trust yourself, especially on a golf course like this that’s very difficult, especially the back nine like the last three, four holes, you need confidence and you need to hit you need to hit brave shots.
“Even if you screw up once in a while, it’s okay, everybody does that once in a while, but at least you play brave, and that’s good playing and that’s not playing like a wimp, just trying to get it over with. But that’s not the way I like to play, and that is what I noticed the last couple years, that’s the way I played because I was not that confident. I thought too much about making too many mistakes and just staying in the tournament, making the cut and trying to work yourself up. That’s too much crap. No one needs that. Just distraction. ”
And, for the record, Kaymer can indeed now hit a draw.
“I needed to (hit it right-to-left) on 2,” he said. “It’s a tough tee shot for me. But I stood on the tee box and the wind is into off the left, and you need to draw the ball, so it’s shocking. It’s shocking, you standing there, but I just told myself, you’ve done it many times before in Augusta. You need to draw certain shots. You have to. That’s being brave.
“If you hit a bad shot, okay, it happens, but at least you tried the shot, and I pulled it off and I had a good eagle chance. Through those shots you gain confidence.”
Kaymer didn’t want to talk too much about the round and the shots, though — he just wanted to enjoy the moment and the fact he did something exceptional on Thursday.
“Today was a very special round, so I think we shouldn’t talk too much into that round,” he said. “It’s different. The same when you shoot 3- or 4-over par, it’s not normal. Something normal is around par for us, but today was different.”