A golfing odyssey of 48 tournaments across 26 destinations ended with one victor when Martin Kaymer succeeded Lee Westwood as The Race to Dubai champion.
Kaymer became only the fourth continental European to win the Harry Vardon trophy, following in the footsteps of the legendary Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer and the man who won the Dubai World Championship presented by DP World on Sunday, Robert Karlsson. And, at 25 years of age, he is the youngest European Number One since Ronan Rafferty 21 years ago.
A quick glance at his record this year underlines the sheer brilliance of his 2010 season. Victory in his first event of the year in Abu Dhabi – the second time he had won the event in three years – was backed up by a fourth place in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic two weeks later and then third in the WGC – CA Championship. Top tens in the US Open and the Open Championship then set him up for a remarkable hat-trick of titles towards the end of the summer.
First on the list was his maiden Major Championship success, holding off American Bubba Watson to win the US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits after a play-off. Indeed, his nerveless 15 foot downhill putt on the last to get into the play-off will rank as one of the shots of the year.
In the process, Kaymer was following in some particularly large footsteps. Only the great Bernhard Langer had previously tasted Major success for Germany with his two Masters titles, but Kaymer is catching him fast.
With success in his next two events – at the KLM Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship – he became the first European since Sir Nick Faldo in 1989 to complete a hat-trick of victories.
Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell bravely fought his way back into contention for The Race to Dubai but Kaymer was not to be denied, finishing the season with a record €4,461,011, which included the €1,092,418 he secured from the Bonus Pool for the top 15.
His rise to the summit of European golf and pursuit of excellence has been unrelenting.
He took up the game of golf at the age of ten when a club opened near his family home in Mettmann, east of Düsseldorf. His father, Horst, already played but here was an opportunity for the whole family and he and his older brother, Philip, as well as his mother, Rina, all got the golfing bug.
By the age of 15 Kaymer had already become a scratch golfer. He also played football, showing talent as a striker for the youth side Fortuna Düsseldorf and a keen supporter of FC Köln, but he decided golf was where his future lay.
The golfing world first began to sit up and take notice of a potential new force when he shot 59 on the Satellite EPD Tour in 2006. By August of that year he had joined the Challenge Tour and comfortably secured his European Tour card by finishing fourth on the Rankings in just eight events, winning two of them.
Twelve months later he was crowned The Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year – the first time a German golfer had won the award – after a season of five second places. He then followed that up with two victories in 2008, two more in 2009, when he won back-to-back titles in the height of the summer, and then four wins in 2010 including his first Major title and his anointment as European Number One.
Indeed, Kaymer could have won The Race to Dubai last year but for a go-karting accident which forced him out of the game for two months with four broken bones in his foot. In the end he came third in the inaugural Race to Dubai, but there was a determination to win the title this year and he duly delivered.
His success has put golf on the front page of the German newspapers for the first time in years and television stations are sitting up and taking notice. Germany has a new golfing idol.
Marco Kaussler, Tournament Director of the BMW International Open in Germany – an event won by Kaymer in 2008 - has witnessed Kaymer’s development first-hand, both through the Munich event and also his role as BMW Golfsport Ambassador.
“It is phenomenal what he does,” admitted Kaussler. “It is just so nice to see this young man being successful and exceeding his personal expectations.
“There is now more interest from the media, he is on the front page, and television interest is increasing. Crews were sent to Dubai for the season’s finale. He has made that happen, and younger people have a new idol.”
Despite his success his year, his performance at the 2008 BMW International Open in particular stands out for Kaussler. His mother was terminally ill with cancer, and at the start of the week it looked like he might not compete. But after missing the practice days and pro-am to be with his family, Kaymer played like the champion he has become.
Playing the first two days with Langer, Germany’s greatest golfer, Kaymer was five strokes clear at the halfway stage. Even then, he turned to the golfing legend immediately after signing his scorecard and asked for his advice on how he could improve.
“All he wants to do is learn and improve,” says Kaussler. “Asking Bernhard which areas of his game he should work on showed that, and he was five clear of the field at the time. He is still getting better and better.”
After a play-off, he become the first German to capture the BMW International Open title, made all the sweeter by the fact it was the tournament’s 20th anniversary. He dedicated his win to his mother, but sadly she passed away two weeks later.
Kaymer has been with the same coach, Gunter Kessler, for 12 years, and Kessler admits that he did not see a world beater from the start. “When [Martin] began taking lessons from me at the age of 12, he didn’t stand out among his peers right away,” Kessler said in an interview with the Observer newspaper last month. “And we certainly had no reason to expect that he would become one of the world’s finest players. But from the very beginning, we did notice that he worked harder than the others.”
A perfectionist, Kaymer practises yoga to improve his golf technique. “He is always thinking a lot about his golf and different ways on how to improve his game,” his brother Philip, who gave up a career in golf to caddie for his younger brother in the early years, told the Observer. The two still play together when Kaymer is at home.
“Our father told us that we should hit the driver without tees to become more comfortable in tournaments. Martin still does a lot of such things like playing practice rounds without woods, the next round without wedges, the next one just with odd-numbered irons and the next one with even-numbered irons. That helps to imagine and create new shots, get a feeling for different situations, hit irons weaker or stronger than normal. It broadens your range of shots.”
He spends some of this time practising in Scottsdale, Arizona, and has an American girlfriend, Alison Micheletti, who is also attempting to find her way as a professional golfer, competing in the Ladies European Tour Pre-Qualifying School at La Manga this week – with the new Race to Dubai Champion arriving to caddie for her in time for the second round. But the World Number Three has no intention of playing in American full time and announced last week his decision to stick to The European Tour.
Kaymer only has Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood ahead of him now in the World Ranking and if he maintains his current progress, he could follow Langer and sit on top of the world. But he is taking it one step at a time.
“Of course it would be nice to be the Number One in the world but my goal was to win The Race to Dubai and then become the Number One in world. Lee did the same, he won The Race to Dubai last year and then became Number One in the world; that would be fine with me, too.”
Westwood, last year’s winner of The Race to Dubai, was gracious in handing over his European crown. “He’s had a great year,” he said. “He’s achieved I think all he wanted to achieve. As he said, he wanted to win a Major Championship and he wanted to win the money list. He’s done both of those so he has every right to be pleased. I’d be cracking over the champagne if I were him.”
Dubai World Champion Karlsson, the European Number One in 2008 who shares the same management company, Sportyard, was also swift to praise the new Race to Dubai champion. “I’ve been around his whole career, and he's a fantastic player and a player I expect will go on and keep doing great things in the future.
“The way he played during that play-off in the US PGA is truly a sign of a champion. I think probably his biggest challenge and probably the things that he needs to get used to before he takes the next step is to handle these sorts of situations and start to like all of the attention and all those sort of things.
“It’s not going to be a problem but might take a bit of time. But he’s definitely a great, great player and he’s going to do a lot of good in the future.”