Germany’s Martin Kaymer returns to the UAE in January as the first of the new generation of golf stars to have both a Major title and a World Golf Championship trophy to his name. Having won last year’s renewal of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and November’s WGC-HSBC Champions he is also on the verge of an unprecedented treble.
Only 10 players have ever won both a Major Championship and a WGC trophy. Since the World Golf Championships series was introduced in 1999, that tiny exclusive club has slowly grown, the founding member being Tiger Woods. Next in was Ernie Els in 2001. Surprisingly late arrivers were the two main challengers to Tiger at his brilliant best: Vijay Singh only claimed his first WGC in 2008, while Phil Mickelson’s 2009 WGC-HSBC Champions victory in Shanghai got him into the group.
Last November in Shanghai, Martin Kaymer, at 26 years of age, added the WGC-HSBC Champions to his 2010 PGA Championship.
Given how long we’ve been focused on emerging wunderkinds like Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Matteo Manassero, you’d be forgiven if you don’t immediately grasp how precocious the German’s talent is.
This simple fact proves it: Kaymer is seven and a half years younger than the previous “baby” of the elite 10, Geoff Ogilvy, and just two days short of nine years junior to the next youngest in the list… Tiger himself.
Just how far Kaymer is ahead the rest of his generation is felt nowhere more strongly than in Abu Dhabi, where he is aiming for a unique sponsor’s treble. While the rest of the world can claim to have seen a trajectory to the young Dusseldorf native’s career, in Abu Dhabi, but for a missed cut right at the very start of his European Tour career, he has just been consistently brilliant.
It’s hard to believe now that at the age of 20 Kaymer was an amateur when he won his first event on the third-tier German-based EPD (European Professional Development) Tour in 2005. He turned professional that year, won the EPD’s 2006 Order of Merit and the chance to play on the Challenge Tour, winning his first event and again, a month later, sealing his European Tour card in just eight tournaments.
The outsider can see a logical development in his career from then on: from five top-ten finishes in his rookie season through to winning his first Major – the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits – and the Race to Dubai in 2010, and claiming the status of the world’s number one player in 2011.
The spectator whose one taste of tournament golf is the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship each year would be forgiven for thinking Kaymer just emerged from the pram that good: in four years he was won the event three times and, in an ‘off year’ in 2009, finished second.
But just as that fan would struggle to understand that Kaymer’s career has actually been one of progressive improvement, so Kaymer would have problems communicating why he now owns three trophies and has played 80-under-par over the past four years.
“It’s tough to explain, but it’s a combination of a lot of things, why I play well there. It’s just the whole package, I believe: I come from five or six weeks’ break, so first of all I’m very motivated to play golf again and to play a tournament again. Then we always stay at an unbelievable hotel at the Emirates Palace. I really like the people there; when I come to the clubhouse – I’ve known them four or five years now – we always recognize each other, we talk a little bit. It’s a very nice environment there. It’s a nice atmosphere and the way HSBC runs the tournament [with the ADTA], it’s very comfortable for us players,” says Kaymer, whose comfort levels must soar once he steps out onto the first tee.
“Every year you get to know the golf course better and better, but I think I know how to play that golf course in the easy way for me; that might be my advantage. I feel comfortable on every tee box I stand on; I really can feel the tee shot, I know where I can miss the tee shot in order to still have a shot towards the green, and another big advantage is that I can read those greens very well,” he continues, seemingly trying very hard not to use the ‘fits-my-eye’ phrase that can only really be understood by those who spend 25 weeks or more each year playing a different layout each week.
“If we compare Abu Dhabi to Augusta, for example, almost every tee shot in Abu Dhabi I stand on the tee box and can hit a little cut into the fairway or I can use a short cut over some bunkers; I just feel very comfortable. Even if I were to miss a shot, I’m still OK. My misses are fine. At Augusta I don’t feel very comfortable on a lot of the tee boxes when I stand there. The look of the hole in Abu Dhabi is very different,” he reveals.
That most temperamental of mistresses – the shortest stick in the bag – has also always behaved like an angel for Kaymer in Abu Dhabi, which probably goes without saying considering he has averaged five-under-par per round over his last four visits.
“I’ve always putted well there. I can read the greens well. I feel comfortable. I can still remember a lot of the putts that I’ve made in the past and that helped me a couple of times last year when I won again. Sometimes you have golf courses where you struggle to read the greens and sometimes you have golf courses where you go there every year and you know you’re going to putt well. It’s just one of those events where I know I will putt well.”
Though Kaymer wouldn’t say it feels like the course was made for him, given the chance, he would make it for himself.
“If I could build my own golf course it would be very close to the golf course in Abu Dhabi for sure. I just play very good golf on that golf course.”