In the end, history might show 2015 as an ‘in-between’ year for Martin Kaymer. The German failed to win on tour last year yet it came after a stellar 2014 in which he claimed the Players Championship and US Open.
It was perhaps a good year to be quiet by his standards, because we are now in the season that sees golf returning to the Olympics after a 112year absence. And 2016 is also a Ryder Cup year.
Having played on the last three European teams, Kaymer is desperate to keep that run going.
“The Olympic Games and the Ryder Cup are the priorities for me this year,” starts Kaymer, 31, speaking exclusively to NCG.
“I will do everything I can to make the Ryder Cup team outright, without needing a wildcard.
“As for the Olympics, I think they are even a little bit more of a priority than the Majors next year. It is difficult to get a feel for the Olympics as an occasion because we are entering the unknown, but with the Majors you have four chances every year, whereas in the Olympics you only have one chance every four years.
“It is very unique and the Olympics could be very emotional. I will try to prepare mentally as well as I can and I will take the Olympics as seriously as the Majors, but I think there will be more emotion in the Olympics.
“We will not only be playing for ourselves in the Olympics but also representing our countries.”
Ranked 26th in the world, as long as Kaymer stays healthy he is assured of a place in the Olympic field in August at Reserva de Marapendi near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, playing in his famous national colours of black, red and yellow.
That emotion Kaymer feels in representing his homeland came out 18 months ago at the 2014 Open, when he arrived at Royal Liverpool sporting four stars on his shirts to mark Germany’s fourth victory in a football World Cup final, also played in Brazil, four days prior to the Open Championship.
We will not only be playing for ourselves in the Olympics but also representing our countries” “The World Cup win made me very, very proud to be a German athlete,” says Kaymer, who watched the World Cup final in his rented house in Hoylake wearing his German football shirt, as Joachim LÃ¶w’s side beat Argentina 1-0.
“The way the team played, the way they carried themselves — they are very grounded people — and they had so much belief, and they were very brave.
“You could feel a whole country lifting, and it is nice to see what sport can do to you. There were not individual stars on that team, they kept together very well and fought as one team.
Kaymer is friends with many of the German national players and occasionally plays golf with them.
Some of them even texted Kaymer video clips from Brazil of them putting in their hotel rooms. German star Thomas Muller credited Kaymer’s 2014 US Open win as a source of inspiration for the football squad, so the good vibes were going both ways.
And what can Kaymer take from the World Cup football pitches of Rio to its newly built Olympic golf course? “Patience,” he says. “The team just delivered. There were no secrets about how they performed; they just played their game, used the opportunities they were given, didn’t make any silly mistakes and they waited. That’s all you can do and it is the same in championship golf.”
While Kaymer’s qualification for the Olympics should be straightforward, playing his way onto Darren Clarke’s 12-man European team heading to Hazeltine in September is less certain.
A win or two early in the 2016 campaign would ease the pressure off the man who holed the putt that retained the Ryder Cup for Europe the last time it was played in the United States, at Medinah in 2012.
A dual member of the European and PGA Tours in recent years, Kaymer is spending 2016 without PGA Tour membership, having failed to qualify for the FedExCup Playoffs and thereby not reaching his minimum requirement of 15 PGA Tour starts for the season.
In reality, it should not affect his schedule much at all.
“My schedule will hardly change,” explains Kaymer.
“Last year I played 13 tournaments in America and this year I can play a maximum of 12 [as a non-member]. With the Majors, WGC events and the Players Championship, already I have eight or nine tournaments, so if I can get three or four invites between February and May in America there won’t be much difference at all.
“The big difference is that I won’t be able to play in the FedEx Cup, but it is quite relaxing not having to focus on two tours at once.”
As the 2014 US Open champion, Kaymer can automatically rejoin the PGA Tour in 2017, but in the immediate future and in a bid to return to the top of leaderboards, Kaymer promises to alter his tournament preparations for the season ahead by trying to locate his optimum workload.
It’s a task that is easier said than done.
“I thought I would be ready for the Masters last year, but I practised too much, too hard, too long,” admits Kaymer, who shot 76-75 at Augusta to miss the cut there for the fifth time in eight Masters appearances.
Despite winning the 2010 PGA Championship and 2014 US Open, Kaymer is yet to finish inside the top 30 at Augusta, a golf course that does not set up for his natural fade.
“It’s the only Major we go to the same place every time and it’s the smallest field of all four Majors so it should be the easiest to win. What I like about it most is it’s the biggest challenge that we face and, if you can win against the best players in the world on the most difficult course in the world, you can win anywhere.
“It’s a place I’d so often seen on TV as a kid and, in reality, it’s so perfect there… it’s paradise. It’s like a huge backyard but it’s the most difficult place to win. Maybe that’s just because of the expectations and pressure you put on yourself. Winning the Masters would mean I only need one more Major to get the full set. To win it, I think you need to find a way to relax a little bit more. You have to enjoy it a bit more — that’s the key to ultimate success.
“You know, last year I wanted it too much and sometimes you can be your own worst enemy. I wanted to play well so much in the big events over the summer and to give myself a chance in the Majors. Augusta was so frustrating. People don’t realise how much effort I put into that tournament.”
Kaymer shot 76-75 last April to miss the cut with ease, his fifth blank weekend in eight starts. His best finish is a share of 31st in 2014.
“After the Masters I went home to Germany and I did not play golf for about 12 days. I helped my grandma in her backyard, mowing the lawn and trimming the hedges. It was lovely.
“She lives just five minutes away and every time I am home she calls me and says ’well, as you are at home you’d may as well come and help’. Sometimes that is just what you need.”
Tiger Woods talked about working from “sun up to sun down” in preparation for the 2015 Masters, and he was not the only one.
But there is a fine line between training, practising and playing to find peak form, and overdoing it.
“I have always been one of those people who would rather do a little bit more, than do a little bit less. The truth is that it is not always necessary to do more work.
“When you are playing well you can feel you need to keep up the work to keep the form going, but if you don’t play well there can be the inclination to practise even harder to get the good form back. It can be a vicious circle and hard to get out of, and I was in that circle during the early part of the year.
“There comes a point where you just can’t push any more.”
Kaymer also promises to treat the Masters like any other tournament, but only time will tell if he can actually manage that once the courtesy car turns off Washington Road and eases up Magnolia Lane, with the Augusta National clubhouse sitting squarely up ahead.
“To be honest, I will just go to Augusta and play,” he says. “I am not going to prepare in a special way. I will prepare the same way I would for any other tournament. I know the golf course and I think in the past I have worried too much about things I do not have any inï¬‚uence on.
“I just need to go and play and try to enjoy the challenge. I am done with trying to prepare for one tournament in a perfect way. There is no perfect way anyway. I will just go and play. I think that is a better plan.”
One way or another, 2016 promises to be an emotional year for Kaymer.