My Sportsman: Martin Kaymer
I have seen the future of golf.
He is not David Duval or Sergio Garcia or Phil Mickelson, who apparently will climb to the No. 1 ranking the same day the Chicago Cubs win a World Series.
He is not Adam Scott or Graeme McDowell or Rory McIlroy, the youngster who, on the final hole of two crucial Ryder Cup matches, couldn't hit the final green with a sand wedge from 95 yards or escape from a greenside bunker in one swing.
He is not frequent Nearly Man Lee Westwood or British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen or Dustin Johnson, who showed he doesn't know a bunker when he's in one.
The future of golf is a German and hello, he's already here. For years, Bernhard Langer was just about the only German we knew for sure who actually played golf and he was a world-beater, a two-time Masters champion and a Hall-of-Famer. Today, there is one German ranked among the top 200 players in the world and, like Langer, he is also a great one. He is my candidate for Sportsman of the Year, Martin Kaymer.
It was no accident that Kaymer won the year's final major, the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, although the unfortunate Johnson may disagree after the two-shot penalty for grounding his club in a fairway bunker kept him out of a playoff with Kaymer and Bubba Watson. Kaymer played again the next week in Europe and won the KLM Open. His next appearance came at the Ryder Cup, where he didn't play his best but was on the winning side. A week after that, Ryder Cup hangover and all, he claimed the Dunhill Links Championship in frosty conditions at the Old Course at Scotland.
Four straight tournaments, four wins. "Well," Kaymer said sheepishly after his Dunhill victory, "three and a half."
He is not just a golfer on a hot streak. He won earlier this year in Abu Dhabi. He is the only man on either side of the Atlantic with a major championship and three other wins. He is just 25 (he'll turn 26 in late December), has a swing drawn from a textbook, hits it magnificently long and straight, makes an inordinate number of long putts and owns eight titles on his home circuit, the European tour. The last American to rack up eight wins, including a major, by age 25? Tiger Woods.
At St. Andrews, the crucial stroke came on the event's 71st hole, the Old Course's famed Road Hole, when Kaymer rolled in a 50-foot putt from off the green for an unlikely birdie after he'd driven into the left rough. For a par from that position, he later admitted, "I would have given you money."
One other thing: The British Open's final Sunday pairing at St. Andrews featured Oosthuizen, the South African who ran away with the championship, and Paul Casey. The man in third place, seven shots back but still with a chance if Oosthuizen stumbled, was Kaymer. The German didn't finish strong, a disappointment that he learned from and used to his advantage a few short weeks later at Whistling Straits. When you win one major and are close in a second, it's no fluke.
While the world of golf spent most of October counting down the days until idle Tiger Woods would lose his No. 1 world ranking to idle Lee Westwood, Kaymer quietly slipped into the No. 4 spot behind Mickelson. (He is currently No. 3). It won't be a surprise if Woods, Westwood and Mickelson trade that position back and forth for a short while, given the vagaries of the points system. It won't be a surprise, either, if the young German formerly best-known before for breaking his foot in a go-kart accident that interrupted his rise to the top in 2009, simply passes them all and doesn't look back for years.
There is no question Kaymer should be ranked at least No. 4 in the world. (Maybe three and a half). Or maybe, almost certainly, even higher in golf's near future.