Should Martin Kaymer complete a memorable wire-to-wire US Open golf championship victory overnight, don’t be surprised to see a spike in tennis ball sales Monday.
Yes, you read that right. Tennis balls. If you’ve been paying close attention to the coverage at Pinehurst No.2, you’ll have noticed the former world No.1 warming up on the range with an elastic necklace bejeweled with one of the humble, yellow fuzzes.
Before each practice swipe, Kaymer gently squeezes the tennis ball between his arms, just above the wrists, to help him stay compact and connected through the backswing. Instead of a zillion different swing thoughts, it allows the “Germanator” to play naturally, something he’s struggled to do ever since ascending to the summit of world golf in late February 2011.
It’s worked a treat too. The 2010 US PGA champion’s back-to-back 65s at Pinehurst saw him establish a 36-hole record in the second major of the year, his score of 130 bettering by one Rory McIlroy’s mark at Congressional in 2011 in a US Open the Northern Irishman would go on to win by eight strokes.
Kaymer ground out a third round 72 early today as the refurbished and increasingly fiery Pinehurst No.2 , complete with its turtle back greens and devilish pin positions, gritted its teeth and made the world’s best players look like, well, weekend warriors on a bad day. But for context, imagine that just two of the 67 players to make the cut – Ricky Fowler and double-heart transplant recipient Erik Compton – managed to break Pinehurst’s par of 70 on Saturday. The pair of 67s saw Fowler and Compton soar 12 places respectively into a share of second at -3, still five shots adrift of Kaymer.
One player, Japan’s Toru Taniguchi, even carded an 88 to further emphasize the brilliance of Kaymer’s score on Saturday, traditionally “moving day” in golf tournaments. Except most pros hope to go north on the leader board, not way, way south.
At -2 and six back, Henrik Stenson and Dustin Johnson still have a theoretical sniff Sunday and even Brandt Snedeker at -1 could feature if his pop-putting stroke gets is impossibly hot and Kaymer freezes. Both scenarios are possible around Pinehurst but probable. The way Kaymer is plotting his way around the links like layoutt, and the way he held his nerve in winning the recent Players Championship, suggests someone somewhere is about to make a killing on tennis ball necklaces, perhaps even more than the US$1.44 million cheque the Dusseldorf-born world No. 28 is set to pocket tonight.
“Anything can happen on a course like this,” Kaymer said before adding: “At the end of the day, it comes down to the last five, six holes. So it will be nice to see how I react, if I’m leading by five, six, seven shots, or if I’m down to maybe one or two behind. Everything’s still open.”
But Kaymer knows how to close, as his start-to-finish Players’ triumph, and his birdie on the 18th Saturday at Pinehurst, showed. And that knee-knocking six footer to seal Europe’s Ryder Cup miracle at Medinah in 2012.
He also believes. After abandoning his career long fade in favour of the draw he felt would bring him success at the US Masters (he finished T31 at Augusta National), Kaymer has reverted back to his natural, tennis-ball enhanced left-to-right ball flight. It was a big call after a frustrating three year slide down the world rankings as he fashioned the draw a waste of time, but not to Kaymer.
“When you work hard, there is no choice, the success has to come,” Kaymer told Middle East Golfer in an interview before January’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
And if the German does win overnight, don’t expect him to party too long. Kaymer might have described his eight weeks at No.1 in 2011 as “lonely” but he’ll happy return there if it means winning more career defining majors.
“You know, when you’ve won a golf tournament and you beat everybody, it’s not over,” he said.
“It’s like okay, I won by two shots today, okay next time, maybe I can win by three or four.
“Obviously there are times when you can relax and enjoy the moment but I think you need to learn through experience that you should never be laid back because when you are laid back you get bored and you don’t have any goals.”
The golfing world has been warned. Tennis anyone? – Kent Gray is Managing Editor of Middle East Golfer magazine.