Pihursnet, N.C. – Martin Kaymer won his first major championship because someone else touched sand.
He might win his second if he keeps avoiding it.
Kaymer emerged as a surprise winner of the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits after fourth-round leader Dustin Johnson grounded his club in a smattering of loose sand, and was penalized, leading to Kaymer winning in a playoff.
Thursday, Kaymer shot the best round ever at a U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, his 65 giving him a three-shot lead over an otherwise packed field after the first round, while striking the ball so purely he rarely visited the sandy stretches of rough that define the course’s recent renovation.
Golfers may ground their clubs at Pinehurst, right?
“I could ground my club, yeah, that’s true,” he said with a smile. “But that was someone else.”
What’s funny is that the penalty on Johnson might have hurt both players.
Johnson looked like a dominant player at Whistling Straits. Robbed of a major, he remains without one.
Kaymer surged to No. 1 in the world in early 2011, but remained at the top for only eight weeks before a slump sent him tumbling out of the world’s top 60 as recently as last season.
“ ‘Slump’ is a tough word,” Kaymer said. “I wouldn’t call it a slump. I would call it a learning process.”
Kaymer wanted to “adjust” his swing to hit a greater variety of shot shapes. He found it difficult to think about his swing while trying to play, and his scores suffered.
“I stopped working on technique pretty much in the middle of March, beginning of April,” Kaymer said. “It was just about the right time for the Masters and the whole season, trying to get into the Ryder Cup team.”
He finished tied for 31st at the Masters. He won the Players Championship, featuring one of the toughest fields in golf.
That victory validated his approach, and left him with the confidence to make Pinehurst No. 2 look like the John Deere Classic for a day.
“I got asked yesterday what score I would take for the whole week, and I said 8 over par,” Kaymer said. “So, hopefully, that’s not going to happen.”
Minnesota native Clayton Rask played a practice round with Sergio Garcia on Wednesday. They would hit their approaches, and Garcia would say, virtually every hole, “Great shot, grab a wedge,” Rask said.
Kaymer hit the ball so straight and solid, he made a difficult course look easy. “It was one of the best rounds I’ve seen, for sure,” said Keegan Bradley, who shot a 69 while playing in the same group.
No one has ever won the Players Championship and the U.S. Open in the same season. Kaymer could accomplish that with a wonderful twist.
He won the Players on Mother’s Day, while honoring his mother, who died of cancer in 2008. A sunflower on his golf bag is his reminder of her, and the morning of the final round of the Players, his brother Phillip sent him a text message that he described as “very emotional.”
Thursday, Kaymer positioned himself to win on Father’s Day, as well.
“I try to win as many majors in my career as possible,” he said. “I won one so far, I put myself so far in a good position, but we have three rounds to go.”
Four players are at 2 under, including former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell.
Ten players are at 1 under, including Johnson.
After his round, McDowell said, “I think the winner of this tournament will have 10 to 12 birdies maximum.”
That was before he found out that Kaymer made six on Thursday.
Kaymer said he hit a few shots “so pure” that they ran over the back of the green. “I’m actually happy about those shots,” he said. “I see things very positive right now.”
It’s easy to be positive when you see sand on a golf course as decoration, rather than impediment.
But then sand has been good to Kaymer.