MEDINAH, Ill. -- When Bernhard Langer missed a 6-foot par putt on the 18th green at Kiawah Island in a 1991 Ryder Cup match to give the Americans back the cup for the first time since 1985, Martin Kaymer was 6 years old and still a few years away from taking up the game.
Kaymer would grow up idolizing his fellow German as the one who lit the spark of interest for ensuing generations of German golfers.
On Sunday afternoon, 21 years after Langer missed that fateful putt, Kaymer had a similar putt to win the Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club. He knew what was at stake. At the 16th hole, Europe's captain, Jose Maria Olazabal, had told him that his team needed him to earn a point. The Europeans had mounted a historic charge after starting the day down 10 to 6.
"We need your point," Olazabal said. "And I don't really care how you do it; just do it."
At the beginning of the week, Kaymer was the unlikeliest of heroes. His last win had come in November at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai. In 2012, he has had just three top-10s worldwide. Kaymer hadn't really been the same player since he started working on hitting a draw off the tee at last year's Masters, when he was No. 1 in the world.
By the time he got to Medinah it was hard to remember that he was the man who had beaten Bubba Watson in a three-hole playoff at the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits or the one who had compiled a respectable 2-1-1 record in his first Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in 2010.
Saturday had been a very difficult day for Kaymer, one of the hardest of his career. Olazabal had decided to bench him for both of the day's sessions because he had not played well in the Friday four-balls. On Friday night, Kaymer traded texts with Langer. He needed some sage advice on how to get up for the matches.
"I would say I was not as inspired as I should," Kaymer said.
So he had a breakfast meeting on Saturday morning with Langer. That talk, Ian Poulter's spirited play on Saturday and his desire to prove to Olazabal that he could help the team inspired him in his singles match against Steve Stricker.
So there Kaymer was at 18 with the weight of Europe on his shoulders with a chance to finish off one of the greatest comebacks in Ryder Cup history. As he read the putt, he began to think about Langer's putt from '91. Kaymer remembered that Langer had two spike marks in his line.
"There was a footprint in my line, but it was not that bad," Kaymer said. "So I thought, OK, it's not going to be -- it's not going to happen again, it's not going to happen again."
Done with his match, a 1 up win over Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia was also thinking about Langer's putt as he stood near the 18th green with his teammates.
Stricker had already made his par. The cup rested again in the hands of a man from a country not famous for producing great golfers.
Kaymer would ram the ball in the back of the cup for a 1 up win.
"I didn't really think about missing," Kaymer said. "There was only one choice: you have to make it.
"When it went in, I was just very happy, and that is something that I will remember probably for the rest of my life and hopefully I can talk about when I have some grandchildren one day."
What had started as a week full of doubt and detachment from the Ryder Cup ended for Kaymer in jubilation and a new understanding of the importance of the event to Olazabal and Langer and to the world.
"It's a completely different level," Kaymer said. "The major win was just for myself, but I can see the guys behind me, my brother was here and my father was here, Sergio ran onto the green.
"It's so much more behind me. Now I know how it really feels to win the Ryder Cup."
Always polite and reserved, Kaymer kept that game-ready demeanor on Sunday night, long after most of his teammates were full of champagne and beer. He was still absorbing the significance of that putt at 18.
He had done something that his mentor couldn't do and he was proud of himself.
"I think this will give me a huge push," he said, "a huge confidence for the next few months, and definitely for next year; if you can make those important putts then pretty much you can do anything."