<
>

Martin Kaymer back in control of his game and life

Shortly after winning the PGA Championship five years ago at Whistling Straits, Martin Kaymer rocketed to No. 1 in the world. Reaching that pinnacle, however, brought with it more complications than Kaymer was prepared for. Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. -- The circumstances of his victory were odd enough, a win all but overshadowed by a rules controversy that reverberates to this day.

Martin Kaymer won the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits five years ago, outlasting Bubba Watson in a three-hole aggregate playoff to hoist the Wanamker Trophy and become the first German other than Bernhard Langer to win a major championship.

But even today, so much of what is remembered about that championship by Lake Michigan is the way it ended so awkwardly for Dustin Johnson, his putt on the 72nd hole -- seemingly to win -- narrowly missing, then finding out that he had grounded his club in a bunker well off the fairway, only to be penalized two strokes and miss the playoff.

Kaymer, then 25, prevailed for his first PGA Tour title and his sixth on the European Tour. (The PGA Championship counts for both the PGA and European tours.) He would go on to win the KLM Open, play for the winning European Ryder Cup team and win again at the Dunhill Links Championship that year.

By the following spring, Kaymer was ranked No. 1 in the world -- and about to lose his way.

Although he added two more European Tour titles in 2011, he would go into a slump that had many questioning whether he should be part of the 2012 European Ryder Cup team at Medinah -- where he ended up holing the Cup-clinching putt.

Kaymer, who has since won the Players Championship and the U.S. Open, looks back on that time and realizes how little he really knew.

"I was only on tour two or three years, and you have other things you are dealing with," Kaymer said as the PGA returns to Whistling Straits this week. "You think about keeping your card for the next year. Where do I practice in the wintertime? Obviously I can't stay in Germany. Can I afford things like this?

"Then all of a sudden, you win a major, you become No. 1 in the world. There are no worries anymore. You can practice anywhere; they want you to come.

"It's a little bit strange, but especially me as a German, it was not normal to be in the spotlight that much. When you grow up in America ... it's already on TV when you're 15, 16 years old. You slowly get into the limelight when you're one of the best. Maybe you're more used to it so you can be prepared for it. For me, it was completely new."

Kaymer referenced Tiger Woods being on a TV show at age 3, and noted that golf is not a big sport -- nor very well understood -- in Germany.

"All the expectations that come with it," he lamented about his sudden fame. "Not here in America, just the expectations in Germany. When you have someone driving in Formula One [Sebastian Vettel] who wins 80 percent of the races, then you have the German football [soccer] team that wins a lot, and then you're No. 1 in the world in golf, and then why don't you win? Top 10 is a disappointment. Missing the cut ... you cannot even describe this. The world is down. It is difficult to handle when you are 25 years old."

No wonder Kaymer's game went into a tailspin.

Although he handled it fine in 2011, getting to the No. 1 spot for a brief time and having a decent year, he started to suffer in 2012. Kaymer sought to make changes to his swing -- he chronicled this in detail last year after good results -- hoping to add a draw to his natural fade.

There were growing pains that saw him struggle for a good part of 2012, as he rarely contended and saw his world ranking start to slip. His form was so poor going into the Ryder Cup that there were whispers he should relinquish his spot. Few remember, but Kaymer played just one match before Sunday singles, where he prevailed over Steve Stricker, making a par putt on the final hole to clinch the Cup for Europe after a riveting final-day comeback.

Kaymer has spoken emotionally about how missing the putt could have been devastating. He won later in the year at the Nedbank Challenge, but in 2013 he failed to win as he world ranking continued to slide. Prior to winning the Players Championship last year, he had dropped to 63rd in the world.

That victory and then his commanding win at the 2014 U.S. Open pushed Kaymer back into golf's elite, and now he has a good deal of perspective. Asked what he would have done differently, Kaymer did not hesitate.

"I would have said more my opinion," Kaymer said. "Back then, I was being told more what I should say, what I should do. You should go do this TV show or you should do this, you should do that, and I thought, "What's the point? What am I doing there? I don't know what I should talk about, and I don't like this TV person. I don't like to go there.'

"But that's just part of it. Then you just ask yourself, 'Do you want to be part of that whole circus?' You do this, you do that, but you don't even know why you're sitting there.

"So now I would say, I want to do this, this and this. Can you help me? Then you're the more active person, and that was not the case back then. Therefore it's quite difficult to handle."

Much has changed since Kaymer won the PGA five years ago, but he has great memories of the golf course and is looking forward to another shot at it. He visited in June prior to the U.S. Open and played the course with his caddie, Craig Connelly.

And no matter what happens this week, it is pretty clear that Kaymer will walk away more in control -- of his game and his life.