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Kaymer - A German hero in the making

Can Martin Kaymer inspire a new generation of German golfers as Langer did?

Posted Oct 11, 2010 by Dermot Gilleece

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It has been said of Bernhard Langer, in praise rather than disparagement, that nobody in the history of tournament golf has squeezed so much out of his God-given talent for the royal and ancient game.  Langer overcame not only an unusually strong grip but some devastating visits from the dreaded putting yips, to carve out one of the most productive careers of the last three decades.

In the case of compatriot Martin Kaymer, however, there could be no question of placing such limits on his potential in the game.  Recent successes, encompassing the Dutch Open, USPGA Championship and the Dunhill Links Championship, suggest that he could become the finest player of his generation, not overshadowed as Langer was by contemporaries such as Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Sandy Lyle.

I'm reminded that early in April 1985, when Kaymer was a little bundle just over three months old and Lyle was still three months away from his Open Championship triumph at Royal St George's, I happened to be in the golf resort of Albarella near Venice where Ireland were qualifying for the inaugural Dunhill Cup.  Having learned early on the Monday morning the outcome of the US Masters at Augusta, I asked the Irish players over breakfast, to guess the surprise winner.

Though he was not privy to the information, Des Smyth instantly piped up: "Bernhard Langer."  And in that moment, he and colleagues Ronan Rafferty and Eamonn Darcy were aware of a new dawn for German golf.  Granted, the ensuing steps were sometimes faltering, but Langer's progress remained admirable.   Few could forget an astonishing performance in the Irish Open at Portmarnock in 1987 when he ran away with the title after shooting an incredible aggregate of 269 - 19 under par - on the world renowned links.

Only a year later, however, Darcy, as his playing partner, talked of the horror of watching Langer's painful attempts at getting the ball into the hole during rounds of 72 and 77 in the same championship on the same course.  The yips had returned with a vengeance. With typical resolve, he found a way of overcoming them once more and as a reward, he and Torsten Giedeon gained the first international victory for a newly-united Germany when capturing the World Cup in Orlando in November 1990. And the trophy was regained in 2006 when Langer had Marcel Siem as his partner. In between, Langer won a second Masters title in 1993.  

Against this background, it was hardly surprising to hear Kaymer, in the wake of his PGA Championship triumph at Whistling Straits, acknowledge that Langer "obviously inspired me when I was a kid, and I hope that I, too, can inspire teenagers and make golf more popular in Germany."  He was also honest enough, however, to name Ernie Els as a later role model, saying: "I just love how that guy swings the golf club."

So, how should we compare Kaymer and Langer?  First, it is clear that both are splendid competitors, unafraid of dipping their toes even into the most forbidding waters of golfing combat. They are also wonderfully composed under pressure, capable of making decisions with a cool, rational mind. 

The fact that Kaymer plays at a much brisker pace than his compatriot is to be welcomed, though not especially significant.  What gives Kaymer such enormous potential, however, is his splendid orthodoxy.  It used to be the view of British and Irish Walker Cup selectors that if two players of seemingly equal talent were in line for one spot on a team, preference would be given to the one with the orthodox method.  This was based on the simple notion of reducing the risk of something going wrong.

Though it seems a rather negative basis of assessment, the benefit of orthodoxy has been proved in countless careers down through the history of the game.

Not only has Kaymer all the tools; he uses them wonderfully well.  Who could have imagined a European winner of the US Open, in the person of Graeme McDowell last June, being overshadowed for player of the year on this side of the pond?  Kaymer is in the process of doing just that.  Which is quite remarkable.

- Dermot Gilleece

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