Had Martin Kaymer’s five-foot putt stayed above ground he would forever have been associated with Bernhard Langer and his Kiawah Island heartache in 1991.
Two Germans, two agonising last-hole misses and two likely American victories – had Kaymer missed (and halved) it would have meant Tiger Woods, needing to win, playing the 18th against Francesco Molinari with a one-hole lead.
Stories always emerge at the end of the week of what really happened and Kaymer’s is a fascinating one.
He qualified in the last spot, came into the matches with little or no form and there was the odd whisper, maybe true or otherwise, that it might be for the best if he gave his place up in the side.
Come the start of the week he made plenty of positive noises but in Friday’s fourballs he failed to make a single birdie. That was when he took Langer to one side for a chat that helped change the path of the Ryder Cup and quite possibly Kaymer’s career.
“I asked Bernhard if we could have a chat. It was going to be for five minutes and it turned out to be an hour and a half. He told me about his experiences and I explained I felt I had played so poorly in the Ryder Cup.”
Kaymer made his debut at Celtic Manor where he was sent off in the first match alongside Lee Westwood.
The pair came through and added a further half in the foursomes before Kaymer joined forces with Poulter for another victory. The points were coming but the form and feeling for the competition wasn’t.
“My record was OK but I hadn’t played to my satisfaction and I wondered why. I was ready to play and motivated but, all of a sudden, you are playing for other people and playing in foursomes.
“You would hit a good shot and your partner would miss, then it would be the other way round. We don’t play golf like this, you play for yourself, and I didn’t feel part of the team.
“Bernhard said he had the same initial feelings. We talked about preparation and, that when you are on the 1st tee, it is just about hitting a golf ball. We were getting distracted and all the thoughts are wrong. It was a long chat and was very deep.”
Kaymer had the Saturday at Medinah to ponder the conversation as Europe fell further behind before a late, relative, flurry of points. What was 10-4 was now 10-6 and there was the merest of sniffs of a comeback.
The German’s role would be in the penultimate singles with Steve Stricker his opponent.
“I wouldn’t have played me on the Saturday. My form before wasn’t good and I didn’t play well on the Friday.
“On the other hand you want to do something for the team so you motivate yourself, not just to contribute for the team but for yourself to deliver one point.
“It started on the range as I was second last off and there was a lot of blue and you know it can happen. Then it is all very realistic.”
Maybe if I had missed the putt it would have been life-changing, thankfully it was life-changing that I did make it" And so it began. Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Paul Lawrie swept up the first five matches. By the time Sergio Garcia edged out Jim Furyk Europe led for the first time in the whole match.
Kaymer and Stricker were locked in a battle where neither player managed to get ahead by two holes at any point. Putts of eight and four feet dropped at 16 and 17 to give Kaymer a slim advantage going to the last.
“From the 14th hole Jose Maria Olazabal made it very clear to me how important it was! I had very clear thoughts and knew what was happening.
“I could see it on the big screen and could see myself walking on the big screen and all the cameras were now on me.”
He pushed his drive into a fairway bunker and, after some discussion as to who was away, found the green from 165 yards. As did Stricker, both players 40 foot past the pin but putting.
“On 18 you are not shaking and it was a nice moment as you have been given this opportunity and you are aware of everything.
“You just go through your pre-shot routine and it was very interesting to see that I could still go through that. I was very calm – you only focus on your target even though it was so loud around the green.
“I was more nervous on the first putt as there was room for mistakes, you either make it or hit it past or wide. There were a lot of possibilities. On the second there wasn’t.
“Then you see ‘Kaymer to retain the Ryder Cup’. It was not possible for me to miss the putt. There was no chance I could miss the putt in that situation.”
The Ryder Cup was retained and, minutes later, bizarrely won as, from 10-4 behind, Kaymer and Molinari put the finishing touches to a 14.5-13.5 scoreline.
Kaymer’s record reads a simple won one, lost one – with no mention of Langer’s role.
“On the Sunday it helped me a lot and gave me security. We should never forget that we are just playing a game.
“Maybe if I had missed the putt it would have been life-changing, thankfully it was life-changing that I did make it. Had I not talked to Langer it would have been a lot harder to make it.”
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