PINEHURST, N.C. – Martin Kaymer made his U.S. Open victory official Sunday, winning by eight strokes with a stunning score of 9 under par.
He really won it Friday, when he shot his second consecutive 65, setting an Open 36-hole record and distancing himself from a field tormented by Pinhurst No. 2’s umbrella greens.
Kaymer has overcome two years of self-inflicted struggles, caused by a decision to change his swing, to win The Players Championship and the U.S. Open.
So I asked him how he escaped his slump.
He looked at me like I had bent his favorite putter.
Kaymer won the PGA Championship in 2010. He rose to No. 1 in the world in 2011. Then he changed his swing and fell from No. 1 to 60-something.
When he heard a certain word, Kaymer, a German who speaks perfect English, acted like he needed a translator.
“Slump?” he said. “Slump is a tough word. I wouldn’t call it a slump.”
World-class golfers learn to stiff-arm reality, or what they would call negativity.
Fall 60 spots in the world rankings? Kaymer calls it a “learning process.”
Try to tweak the swing that took you to No. 1? Kaymer calls it “an adjustment.”
He’s like the lefty who throws an 88-mph fastball down the middle, sees it land 500 feet away, and says he made a good pitch.
Kaymer and those like him don’t just rely on the power of positive thinking; they spray aerosol repellant onto any airborne words that could create doubt, like gardeners trying to kill angry wasps.
“You read over and over again in newspapers, on Facebook, on all those golf web sites, is he ever going to come back?” Kaymer said. “Is he a one-hit wonder with a major win? It’s not nice to read, but you understand why people think like this. It’s quite normal. Which was just very nice for me that I knew deep inside that I never doubted myself.”
It’s the struggling athlete’s conundrum, and salvation: Retaining faith despite faith-sapping evidence.
The average human would have second-guessed changing a swing that brought him to No. 1. Kaymer either didn’t, or he blocked out the voices in his head that might have sabotaged his progress.
“I played very brave today,” Kaymer said.
He displayed more athletic bravery when he changed his swing after winning a major.