Europe's Martin Kaymer tells John McAuley what it means to represent an entire continent in golf's greatest team event.
Martin Kaymer: Ryder Cup indescribable
In a short yet already remarkable career, Martin Kaymer's Ryder Cup debut still forms one of his most cherished memories.
"When our supporters sang a different song to each and every group walking up on the first tee, that is something I will definitely remember for the rest of my life," he said before reprising his role against the United States today at Chicago's Medinah Country Club.
It was a rain-drenched Celtic Manor two years ago when the rookie, dressed more for winter in Whistler than golf in Wales, was paired with Lee Westwood and entrusted to ignite Europe's bid to reclaim the trophy they relinquished at Valhalla in 2008. "That walk, it's indescribable," said Kaymer. "To be out there playing with Lee in the first group on Friday morning was a situation I'd looked forward to for so many weeks.
"It's a feeling I have never experienced before on a golf course. You get goose bumps.
"I wasn't really nervous, more excited to show the people and myself I could perform well on the biggest stage possible. Because it doesn't really get any bigger than that."
Kaymer, having wiped the wet from his brow, took a deep inhale and hammered a three-wood into the heart of the fairway.
The crowd, as partisan as golf galleries get, erupted.
The German extracted cheers throughout the opening four-balls, as he and Westwood combined to ward off Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, the powerful American duo, for Europe to triumph 3-and-2.
The leaderboard celebrated with an all-important first fleck of blue.
Kaymer had help in keeping anxieties at bay, attributing his relative serenity to the presence of Westwood, the rock-steady Englishman making his seventh cup appearance.
"He took care of me, told me that he had been nervous his first time and that I should relax," Kaymer said. "It was so comforting to have Lee, with all that vast experience, next to me."
Kaymer had sampled before the unique confines of the Ryder Cup, when in 2008 Nick Faldo, in one of his more astute moments of captaincy, selected the then 23 year old as a non-playing member of his side for Kentucky.
Then, the young golfer witnessed Boo Weekley, the Floridian freewheeler, straddle his driver and raise the roof on Singles Sunday as the United States romped to a first victory in nine years.
Now, Kaymer expects the same from Chicago's wildly passionate crowd, especially as Davis Love III, the American captain, has spent the past week stoking fires ahead of what is sure to be a titanic tussle. Support has been heavily summoned.
"They will have their '13th man' out again. But that can be turned into fuel for us," Kaymer said. "We will be the underdogs as we have so many times before. That can be a good thing."
Besides, he says, in their captain Jose Maria Olazabal, Europe have the trump card.
Nothing stirs the Spaniard's blood more than the biennial battle; Olazabal, in his guise as vice-captain at Celtic Manor, displayed his inspirational qualities during an impromptu address in the European team room.
"He held an unplanned speech in Wales that I will never forget," Kaymer said.
"For me, Jose is the Ryder Cup. It is a true honour to get to play for him and I can't think of anyone better.
"Speaking about support, he definitely has our backs. He's already been able to instil in many of us both confidence and a certain calmness."
Kaymer almost had to lean on his captain more than he intended. Having qualified for the 2010 team on the back of a standout season that supplied a first major title and three other European Tour victories, the former European No 1's form dipped drastically and a struggle ensued to make Medinah.
It was not until the final qualifying event - last month's Johnnie Walker Championship - that Kaymer secured his place on the plane, finishing 10th - and last - on Europe's automatic list.
He revealed, however, that his troublesome swing "clicked" three weeks ago at the KLM Open, and pointed to an increased sense of belonging on golf's grandest stage as reason for optimism this weekend.
"I wanted it so bad two years ago," he said of a performance that yielded 2.5 points from four matches, yet owed much to his partnerships with Westwood and Ian Poulter, a diehard cup competitor. Sunday's resounding 6-and-4 defeat to Johnson still rankles.
"I really wanted to play well. I was in a really good period because I'd played such nice golf and had a lot of success with winning the US PGA Championship.
"But I just didn't let it happen. I was too stiff and too intense.
"So I'm trying to enjoy it a little more this week and not put myself under pressure. I'll be better for the team this time since I know more and am able to relax a little bit more."
Nicolas Colsaerts, the sole rookie on the European team, will perhaps find a quiet quarter in the team room today to glean some words of wisdom from Kaymer on coping with a cup debut.
His teammate, now a man of genuine experience in the transatlantic clash, will leave him in little doubt as to what is at stake.
"The pressure is different to the majors because you are playing not only for yourself but for your captain, your team and a whole continent," Kaymer said.
"But it's best to play your game the way you would play it as if you were there for yourself. Otherwise it gets more difficult than it needs to be.
"As for Nicolas, I'm not sure I am in a position to give him advice. He's a great golfer and has been so for many years.
"All I can say is be yourself and play your game. We will all be there for one another. I can't wait and neither can Nicolas. We are all looking forward to it, that's for sure."
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