Not so long ago Martin Kaymer appeared to have it all. Aged 26 he already had his first Major in the bag. Six months later he become the World No 1.
In his first Major after that breakthrough victory at Whistling Straits in 2010, though, Kaymer then missed the cut at Augusta.
This was nothing out of the ordinary – he had done the same on all four previous visits to the Masters – but this one had a lasting effect.
The German vowed there and then to change his game to help tailor it to the test that Augusta National set and introduce a reliable draw into his arsenal of shots.
For the last three years the ease with which Kaymer had seemingly played the game wasn’t there; the change of shot shape took longer than expected to bed in and the short game provided more questions than answers.
We sat down with Kaymer in Abu Dhabi, somewhere he had won three times in four years, to hear about those swing changes, life as the World No 1 and the prospect of more victories.
What consolation have you taken from making your last two cuts at Augusta?
For some last year (T35) was a success. But for me it was very disappointing because I hit the ball very well but didn’t make many putts until the last nine holes when I had six birdies.
So that is a good momentum to go into this year. I know I can play the course though so that is positive and I am getting closer.
How difficult a course was it for you previously?
For the first four years I was unable to play the course. It wasn’t impossible but it was much more difficult. In the last couple of years I was able to hit any shot and it was very nice, I could really enjoy playing Augusta.
Three years ago on the Friday afternoon when I left it was so frustrating to think you could come here every single year and not have a chance to win.
I thought, that’s not going to happen, I’m going to have to change and it took me two or three years but now I can play the course.
People said ‘you’re No 1, how can you change?’ which is understandable but Augusta is very important to me.
What holes particularly gave you problems?
It started on the 2nd hole. Ideally you would draw it, straight is OK but left to right leaves no chance of getting home in two. I played with Adam Scott in the practice rounds and he had an iron to the green while I was just happy to make five.
The 7th was almost impossible for me. You can’t aim left as there are some trees. So you lay back with a 3 wood but that leaves a 5 iron and the green isn’t designed for this.
At the 10th I would be hitting 3 and 4 irons because I couldn’t get it on the bottom when others are hitting 8 irons.
At the 13th I had to hit 3 wood off the tee and then lay up short of the green. You can give up four or five shots easily and it was so frustrating to see people in the group playing the course as it should be played when you are meant to be the best player in the world.
What do your preparations consist of?
The last two years I have gone the weekend before and that is very nice.
There are so many people and players during the week and they are very long days. Go before you can play 36 holes Saturday and Sunday and then take it easy Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. That, for me, is how you prepare for a Major.
It seems a silly question but how important are the Majors to you?
You prepare for four tournaments and that is how you make your schedule.
At the end of your career, in my opinion, it depends on how many Majors you have won and how many Ryder Cups you have played in.
It is a nice feeling to know that I have won one already.
I always play at a Major venue a couple of months before it.
I am actually a bit sad that the journey is over, it was the same when I became No 1. Is the whole process of being able to hit the draw over?
It is definitely over! I am actually a bit sad that the journey is over, it was the same when I became No 1. You are supposed to be happy – you are satisfied but not completely happy. When you look back at the suffering and the hours that made me happy, but not reaching the destination.
You should always have goals – when you lay back (and think of it), you get bored.
What has been the problem with the short game?
I have learned a new technique that I will benefit from but it won’t be my natural shot. To go back to my old technique won’t take as much time, it is in me and saved in my muscles.
The last two years it was impossible to hit a good shot – I would be thinking ‘is my weight too much on my left or my right, are my hands forward, am I swinging too far or is it too upright?’
You forget completely about the hole, then you hit a good chip but you have misjudged the distance.
How do you look back on your 2013 season?
It was not bad for results but my expectations were a lot higher, you want to win not just one but two or three tournaments a year and I didn’t put myself in contention very often.
I finished high up a few times in the top 10 or 20 but that doesn’t help you on the world rankings.
Over the new year I spent a lot of time working on my short game and that was the main reason for me not winning in 2013. I have changed a lot of my short game and it hasn’t really worked so I will work with my coach, Gunter Kessler, of the last 15 years.
My long game is good, it’s solid, so I can only go one way.
In 2013 I left every tournament disappointed as I left behind four or five shots with my chipping and pitching.
And the draw?
The draw is done, it’s finished. I have talked about it for three years.
It’s all about the short game now. If you focus on one part of the game then the rest can suffer as there are only 24 hours in the day, and if you change something you need to put a lot of hard work into it.
You can’t do everything at the same time, if you did you would go mental.
It has all taken a lot of time but that is fine as I want to win tournaments again.
In 2010 you were regarded as one of the world’s best putters, how do you rate that area of your game now?
My putting has become better, not statistically as I hit a lot of greens, but it feels better. The statistics say that I don’t make a lot of long putts; if I hit every green then I don’t have 24 putts, if I only hit six or seven greens then there is a good possibility that I have 24 putts.
I have never had a putting coach and I am very happy with what I am doing. Putting is not that difficult, we make it difficult. At the end of the day we over-think it and putting is not mental.
Do you read articles about yourself?
People give you their opinion without you asking, social media, websites, magazines, it is almost impossible not to read about it and then you doubt yourself once in a while.
It wasn’t because I was in bad form; I was going through changes and you will go down a little bit.
Long term I know I am doing the right thing, I want to be better.
What is it like being the World No 1?
It is very lonely. If you are the No 1 in any sport it is difficult. There were only three people around me who stayed the same and treated me the same way.
Others treated me differently, maybe you also give a different impression as well but they definitely act different. Subconsciously it happens.
People make you more important than you want to be, and you ask yourself why, so that was a very strange situation to be in.
If I had changed then I could understand it but I wasn’t different and people were less honest with me and just said what I wanted to hear.
They didn’t want to upset me and that is really confusing.