Trailing 10-6, which in these international team competitions can be interpreted as insurmountable, it figured to matter not at all. By the 11th match, it was assumed the Americans would have clinched it and Kaymer’s Ryder Cup involvement would be a distant memory. He had played in just one team match — a sloppy and poorly-executed four-ball loss alongside Justin Rose late on the Friday — then he had sat on a golf cart all of Saturday.
Others may have felt badly for Kaymer, but he did not. “I wouldn’t have put myself on the team,” he said.
He automatically qualified, of course, but it was his way of conceding that his scratchy play in 2012 had provided reason enough for others to lose faith in him. The important thing is, “I was very secure about myself,” Kaymer said, his spirits buoyed by a long talk with countryman Bernhard Langer. So when early Sunday evening rolled around, and Kaymer’s singles match against Steve Stricker completed a breathtaking European rally, the balance of victory was on his shoulders.
Make an eight-foot putt at the 18th hole and Europe win. But if you miss? “It could break an athlete,” he said.
Cemented into the history books is the fact Kaymer made the putt and provided Europe’s 14½—13½ victory. Nearly two years later, he can talk openly. That stuff about breaking an athlete? “I’m very happy I didn’t think about it while I was standing over that putt,” he said.
A smile was present as Kaymer related his emotions tied to that Ryder Cup finale — and why not? Far removed from a tailspin that had seen the German go from No. 1 to No. 61 in the world ranking, he is back as a force on the global golf scene, looking every bit the fine-tuned ball-striking machine who won the 2010 PGA Championship.
If last month’s triumph at The Players Championship — the flagship event on the US PGA Tour that brought a $1.8m prize — wasn’t enough evidence, there is the current demolition Kaymer is making of the 114th US Open. At a Major championship where birdies come around as frequently as a pay raise, he has made 11 in two days. At a Major championship where reaching double-digits under par occurs less frequently than a lunar eclipse, he is providing very little light for his competition.
Utterly in control of his swing, his emotions, and his putting stroke, Kaymer on Friday produced a second day of unfiltered brilliance, his second consecutive five-under 65 leaving onlookers speechless. Getting to 10-under to establish a US Open record for a 36-hole score, 130, Kaymer left Pinehurst No. 2 with an eight-stroke lead, though you needed GPS to see who was in second, they were so out of sight.
It didn’t appear to matter what the afternoon wave did, the 2014 US Open morphed into this: Kaymer’s to lose.
The trick for Kaymer, of course, is to not follow the line of thinking that everyone else is in tune with.
“You can’t think too much ahead,” he said. “There’s a lot of confidence right now, yes, but it doesn’t mean I can go too aggressive.”
If there is hope for those on the chase, it comes in knowing what happened to Adam Scott in March. Leading by seven after two rounds of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Aussie collapsed to lose to Matt Every. If there is motivation for the marquee names who must make up serious ground, it comes in knowing what happened to Gil Morgan at the 1992 US Open at Pebble Beach. Sprinting out to 66-69, Morgan birdied the third hole in Round 3 and became the first man to ever reach 10-under at a US Open. He stumbled badly and wound up losing to Tom Kite.
But if there is a worry for any of them — be they named Phil Mickelson or Graeme McDowell, Dustin Johnson or Keegan Bradley, Adam Scott or Matt Kuchar — it comes in knowing Kaymer didn’t break in the face of Ryder Cup pressure nearly two years ago.