Defending U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer is evidence that a runaway victory in a major tournament does not make a golfer lucky for life.
It doesn’t even make him lucky for a year.
Last June in North Carolina, Kaymer was so clearly No. 1 at Pinehurst No. 2 that the often suspenseful weekend rounds turned into the Martin Kaymer Show, starring Martin Kaymer. He fired a 5-under-par 65 on Thursday and never looked back during a tour-de-force effort that enabled him to join the likes of Walter Hagen, Ben Hogan, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy as wire-to-wire Open winners.
The native of Dusseldorf, Germany, also made some demographic history as the first U.S. Open winner from continental Europe.
But since his scintillating ball-striking between the Carolina pines, Kaymer has all but vanished. A sixth-place showing at a World Golf Championship event in Shanghai in November, accounted for $213,667 of the $389,370 he has earned during a PGA Tour season that includes no other top 30 finishes.
Kaymer ranks among the most inconspicuous defending Open champions in memory, and not just because of the desultory results of his recent performances. Kaymer’s eight-stroke victory at Pinehurst was obscured in his homeland by two major stories that broke at the same time: Germany’s 4-0 victory over Portugal in its World Cup opener, and Michael Schumacher’s awakening from a coma. (The seven-time Formula One champ had suffered severe head injuries in a skiing accident.)
Germany’s largest-selling daily newspaper, Bild, runs a “winners” and “losers” column on its front page. A day after he dominated the U.S. Open, Kaymer was put in both categories.
As Bild put it: “Germans are only talking about the Schumi-wonder and the start of the team’s World Cup bid.”
Perhaps Germans will be more inclined to talk about their native son this week when he tees off on a Chambers Bay course that should appeal to him. Kaymer won the 2010 PGA at Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits, a links-style version of Chambers built along the shores of Lake Michigan.
Kaymer had yet to visit the Pacific Northwest in April when he chatted with reporters via a satellite hookup during U.S. Open media day. But he’d talked with Chambers Bay architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. at the Masters, “and he gave me a few tips,” Kaymer said.
“I guess it looks very similar to Whistling Straits, which is quite nice. Obviously, I like those kinds of golf courses,” he said.
Kaymer is 30, an age typically associated with a golfer’s peak. He’s healthy and hungry to revive a career that five years ago found him ranked, albeit briefly, as No. 1 in the world. He has got the bump-and-run skills required to endure a links-style test.
If you’re looking for a darkhorse candidate in the Chambers Bay field, there are more implausible choices than a two-time major champion.
“If you win one major, it’s almost like a career goal,” he said. “But to win two, it’s a proof to yourself that you can do it again. Obviously, there are more tournaments I would like to win in my career. But I started off well, under the age of 30, and they say the best time of your career is coming up now. So I’m excited about that.”
Kaymer is an amiable sort quick to acknowledge — and counter — casual stereotypes. When asked in April about his plans to study Chambers Bay from a distance, he admitted he wasn’t detail-oriented, “even though I’m German ...
“I’m the kind of person, I go there, create a feel for it and then maybe walk nine holes or 18 holes the day before the tournament,” he said. “It depends on the course. But I’m not too much into trying to figure out the golf course before I get there.”
If Kaymer contends through the weekend, he’ll be attempting to defy some history. Six players have won consecutive U.S. Opens, but since Ben Hogan accomplished the feat in 1951, only Curtis Strange — in 1988 and 1989 — has been a back-to-back champion.
But who knows? This month already has produced horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner since 1978. The Houston Astros are contending for a pennant, and the Cleveland Cavaliers made the NBA Finals.
Kaymer won’t be a sentimental favorite at Chambers Bay, where fans figure to root for an American, any American, to disrupt a trend: Four of the past five Open champs — and eight of the last 11 — were from Europe.
The German will roll with it, trusting a monumental upset spares him a place in the “losers” column of his country’s most popular national newspaper.