The first to arrive last week were Martin Kamyer’s brother, Philip, and his best friend Patrick.
On Tuesday evening, though, less than 24 hours after their plane touched down in Phoenix, the two dragged the reigning PGA champion back to the airport. There was a “surprise” in store, they told Kaymer.
Turns out, the trio was there to pick up Kaymer’s father, Horst, who had flown in all the way from Germany to have a word with the man who now sits atop the Official World Golf Ranking.
“He says, ‘Next time in Germany who knows if you’re still No. 1, so I just wanted to take the opportunity to say congratulations,’” Kaymer said with a grin.
Horst Kaymer was teasing his son, of course. But the fact is, the No. 1 ranking in the world has proven to be a fleeting proposition of late — and there seems to be no end in sight.
For much of last year, Phil Mickelson had a chance to overtake Tiger Woods at the top of the rankings. He didn’t, but Lee Westwood finally ended Woods’ reign at 218 weeks on Halloween. And then 17 weeks later, another domino fell as Kaymer dethroned Westwood when he finished second at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship.
The 26-year-old German plays for the first time since taking his place at the top of the Official World Golf Ranking this week at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship. And he’ll be able to keep a close eye on the competition during the first two rounds when he’s paired with No. 2 Westwood and No. 3 Luke Donald.
Should Westwood go on to win at TPC Blue Monster, the Englishman would go back to No. 1. And the scenario is likely to be played out several more times in the weeks leading up to the Masters — that’s how volatile the rankings are now that the once seemingly insurmountable Woods has slipped to fifth.
Last week was a case in point as Kaymer took a break while Westwood and Donald played in The Honda Classic. Westwood was 1 under through 36 holes and inside the top 10 on the leaderboard before eventually tying for 29th. Kaymer said he started to get phone calls from friends who speculated he might be ranked second or third when he came to Doral.
“To be honest with you, I said, I really don’t care,” Kaymer said. “I’ve been No. 1 in the world at least for seven days. No one can take it away from me. … That was my goal when I started playing golf.”
Kaymer said the significance of what he accomplished by getting to the championship match at Dove Mountain hit him last Wednesday night when he was having dinner with Horst, Philip and Patrick at a steakhouse in Scottsdale. The cake that was delivered for dessert had “Congratulations, No. 1″ written on it.
“And then, you know, my dad and me, we were just looking at each other in a strange way and then we both thought I think the same thing; how cool it is … there’s no one else in the world who is better in the sport than you,” Kaymer recalled.
“It was a very satisfying feeling, and for us at the table, it was a very strange atmosphere. It was very proud. Everybody on this table has achieved something great, but at the end of the day, it was me who played golf, but without those three people there, and obviously with a few others, I wouldn’t have achieved that.”
Ernie Els has been there, done that. The three-time major champion was the world No. 1 for a total of nine weeks in 1997 and ’98 so he can understand Kaymer’s deep-seeded satisfaction.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling; to look at the ranking and all the way to the top, there’s no one ahead of you,” Els said. “It’s a great feeling. … You walk out, and there’s a certain appreciation that you have for it, and then obviously a certain respect from the players. They look at you a little differently and … really on top of the world.
“For Martin to have it at 26, it’s a great feeling. Obviously Tiger had it since he’s been, I don’t know how old. … It’s almost like winning a major. It’s that kind of feeling.”
Kaymer calls the No. 1 ranking a “life goal.” His playoff win at the PGA Championship last August admittedly was a huge accomplishment but to be recognized as the best at one’s profession is even more of career-definer. Kaymer is the second German to accomplish the feat — Bernhard Langer was No. 1 for three weeks when the rankings were first established.
“It would be nice to be one day longer … than Bernhard Langer,” Kaymer said, grinning. “,,, If it happens, it happens. If not, that’s fine, too. But there’s no extra pressure or anything.”
The questions, Kaymer acknowledges, are different now. It’s not when will you get to No. 1, it’s how long you can stay there. And as much excitment as the volatility of the rankings creates, always lurking is the spectre of a man who has spent a total of 623 weeks as No. 1.
“I think it’s good for golf in the whole world,” Kaymer said. “Obviously it would be fantastic if Tiger comes back and finds back to his form. That would be great to against the greatest player whoever played the game in his top form and see if I can it still compete against him. I don’t believe so; if he plays the same way that he played in 2000, I might struggle, but it would be nice to have that challenge.”
Kaymer doesn’t see the anyone dominating the game like Woods once did — at last not anytime soon. Els, who bears more scars than many in the Woods era, isn’t quite so sure but he knows the game has changed.
“I don’t know, man,” Els said. “I played for 10 years when that guy dominated, so it’s tough to get a different mind set on things. Tiger was the dominant player. He won 14 majors. Think about it, 14 majors, in such a short period of time. Who is ever going to do that again? Who knows? That is pretty dominating.
“… The youngsters, they have got something going for them. They didn’t have to play under a guy that was so dominant and I don’t think they will ever appreciate how good Tiger was back then. He could do it again, who knows? He’s just got to sort out the new swing again. He’s so mentally strong that he could well dominate again.
“… It’s nice to see that the 20 somethings are actually producing now. They have started winning majors now and they are winning tournaments. It’s basically almost their time to shine now and for us to do what we can.”