June 7, 2019
Golf must be really tough. Just ask Martin Kaymer
Where has Martin Kaymer been for five years? Since winning the US Open at Pinehurst #2 by eight shots in 2014, he has not won on any tour since that time. He lost his PGA Tour card for the 2015/2016 season and has not regained status since. Since that time he has played between six to ten tournaments in America each year, while splitting his time playing in European PGA events. There have been some nagging physical problems, but since 2014, Martin has been a non-factor in professional golf until he showed up on the leaderboard at Jack Nicklaus's Memorial Tournament in Columbus, Ohio this past week. I thought he might have retired or had a career ending injury; he was that far off the radar.
Tournament golf is very difficult with success and failure sometimes depending on a lucky bounce or a failed putt that could launch or derail a career. Ultimately the real test is maintaining that degree of success throughout a sustained period of time. Here is a two time major winner, with Ryder Cup accomplishments in the prime of his career, working hard to regain his past glory. The reality is that most players in the top ten World Rankings today will not be there in two to three years. Only one player, Dustin Johnson, has been in the top ten end of the year world rankings since 2015. Greatness is defined in longevity. That's what makes players like Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Phil Michelson, Arnold Palmer, or Jim Furyk so outstanding. It only takes a small slip in one part of your game and you suddenly become average. Jordan Spieth's exceptional putting left him a couple of years ago, and the rest of his game could not make up the difference. The margin of error for great players is razor thin and maintaining that superiority requires hard work, a bit of luck and good health.
Last year on the PGA Tour there were 170 players that played in 20 or more PGA tournaments. 40 of those players didn't make enough money to qualify to play this year. That is almost a 25% failure rate. Many that didn't qualify were graduates of the Web.com tour, where 50 cards are awarded each year. Making it to the PGA Tour is hard enough, but staying there is even tougher. Many past winners and well-known names disappear each year. Names like Robert Allenby, Stuart Appleby, Ricky Barnes, Rich Been, Angel Cabrera, Ben Curtis, Luke Donald, Bill Haas, Trevor Immelman, Geoff Ogilvy, and Kevin Stadler are a few names that are no longer a regular part of the PGA Tour.
If you watched the Memorial tournament this past week, you could see that Martin Kaymer is an exceptional ball striker. He is physically fit with an excellent golf swing. The reason that he was leading the tournament after three rounds was that he was having an exceptional putting week. At one point he had not missed one putt less than 15 feet! The PGA Tour statistics from 15 feet is 22% made; from 12 feet 30%; from 10 feet 38%, and 8 feet 49%. He was defying the odds and making everything. Martin's weak points have always been his short game and putting. When that was working, he was a world beater. Eventually, that short game and putting reverted to form and he slipped back to third. However it was an outstanding performance. Maybe this will help his confidence and that he found something with his putting that will last and make him relevant again.
Johnny Miller described tournament golf as walking a tightrope. It's very hard to stay steady and maintain your balance knowing you will eventually slip. Staying on the rope for a longtime and sustaining excellence is much harder that we realize. Just ask Martin Kaymer!