SAN FRANCISCO — Martin Kaymer arrived in San Francisco with minimal expectations. Unlike many of his peers in professional golf, he has played very little in the last few months. In Germany, he wasn’t allowed.
So Kaymer helped his father build a terrace at the family home. His clubs lay dormant as the nation dealt with its coronavirus pandemic quarantine rules.
“I had to keep my mind occupied with different stuff, living life like a normal person if you’re not an athlete,” he said.
That’s not exactly what Kaymer needed. His game had been in decline, and putting in practice is what he felt necessary. Since winning the 2014 Players Championship and 2014 U.S. Open, Kaymer has not won anywhere in the world. He finished that year ranked 12th. He came into the PGA Championship ranked 128th in the world.
And since that victory at the U.S. Open, he’s had just one top-10 finish in a major, a tie for seventh at the 2016 PGA championship.
Hence, the lack of expectations before shooting 66 in the opening round of the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park.
“I didn’t really know where my game was at,” said Kaymer, 35, who missed the cut at last week’s Barracuda Championship, his first event since March. “Obviously, I knew I was playing OK, but on a golf course like this, OK play doesn’t really get you far. Knowing this going into this week, I needed something.
“So last night I was watching the U.S. Open actually from 2014, the back nine, trying to get some kind of positivity in my game because it hasn’t been much recently because of no play. On the first tee, I was thinking, obviously this [the 10th] is one of the easier holes right away with a par-5, if I can start off nicely with a birdie, that would be great.
“Watching that video of me winning the U.S. Open, that helped me to believe that my putting was good enough, that my ball-striking was good enough, even though it’s a few years back. But it’s always nice to remember those moments and feel the same that you felt that day.”
Kaymer, who was ranked No. 1 in the world for a short time in 2011 after winning his first major championship in 2010 at the PGA Championship in a playoff over Bubba Watson, dominated the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst, where he won by eight shots over Rickie Fowler and Erik Compton.
And then he didn’t win again. In fact, starting in 2015, Kaymer has posted just four top-3 finishes in the past five years.
All of it is a bit bizarre for a player of his stature. He was among the 2012 European Ryder Cup heroes, holing the clinching par putt on the 18th green. He not only won two majors and a Players, but also the WGC-HSBC Champions. He has 11 European Tour wins.
“I just haven’t played well enough,” he said. “I mean, it’s very simple. My priorities, they’ve shifted a little bit. I didn’t practice as much as I should have. I didn’t feel as motivated as I maybe should have, also.
“But coming out here, it’s a huge motivation again, seeing the guys, the way they play, the way they play golf, the type of golf has changed so much, and it takes a little bit of time to get used to that and getting into a similar groove without losing your own game, and that is something that takes a little bit of adjustment.”
Kaymer made an eagle, four birdies and two bogeys to shoot 66 and finish a shot behind Jason Day.
Not bad considering he returned to the U.S. a few weeks ago with the idea of quarantining for 14 days, then learned he’d be exempt as an international golfer and was allowed to play last week’s PGA Tour event.
“Last week was very strange,” Kaymer said. “It was one of those weeks where you go and you don’t know what to expect. I played a few rounds in Jupiter, Florida, a few weeks ago to get ready for the PGA Championship, and I played well there. But if you have a scorecard in your pocket, it always feels different.”