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US Open Golf: Martin Kaymer Loves Pinehurst, and the Golf Gods Hate NBC

Minivan Dad

Martin Kaymer won the US Open Golf Championship at Pinehurst this week, easily. Not that it was easy, or easy for him, but it was certainly easier for him than it was for everyone else.

That's good for Martin Kaymer. The calm young German torched a difficult course in the early rounds with precise golf, to the tune of matching 65s on Thursday and Friday. Then, he thrived amidst the carnage on Saturday (72) and Sunday (69) to prevail over Erik Compton and Rickie Fowler by 8 strokes.

Martin Kaymer is very nice. At least he seems to be. He seems to be a quiet, funny, engaging 29-year old. He won the PGA Championship in August 2010 and ascended to #1 in the World Golf Rankings in early 2011. And then he fell off the earth. It seems that either he had the brilliant idea (that no one talked him out of), or someone else convinced him, that he needed to change his ball flight from his natural fade to a draw if he wanted to win the Masters and be considered truly elite. Clearly, the name Nicklaus wasn't mentioned in these discussions. After some time in the woods, he re-emerged at Medinah in the 2012 Ryder Cup, where he holed the Cup-winning putt. This spring, at the Players Championship, Kaymer appeared to have regained his form and his confidence, as well as his old swing action, winning by 1 stroke. Thankfully, he abandoned the old neckwear

Martin Kaymer may have seen this coming. Not too many other people can honestly claim that they did. (Except Frank Nobilo of the Golf Channel, who suggested on the eve of the tournament that Kaymer was someone to keep an eye on.) Most people were not-so-subtly - ok, openly cheering for - this. But after a decent 70 on Thursday, and 2 opening birdies on Friday, Phil Mickelson missed a short putt on the 3rd hole for par, and suddenly turned into a 44-year old (June 16) guy with arthritis, finishing at 2-over for the tournament. Which, of course, means he'll win next year's Open at Chambers Bay outside Seattle.

This week belonged to Kaymer entirely. He bisected fairways, hit greens, scrambled when necessary, missed in the right place around the greens, and drained putts from everywhere. He hit safe, precise short irons and laser long irons. By the time Saturday afternoon rolled around, Kaymer had a 6-stroke lead. At the end of the difficult day, Kaymer had dropped 2 strokes, but had a five shot lead over popular American Rickie Fowler and Erik Compton. (Compton, a two-time heart transplant recipient, was definitely the feel-good story of the weekend. His T2 finish greatly enhances his PGA Tour status, qualifies him for the next 3 Majors, including his first Masters invitation, and automatically enters him in next year's US Open.)

All the drama there was happened early on Saturday. Kaymer took a unplayable lie from the left pine straw rather than risk breaking a wrist on the 4th hole, then made a huge putt for bogey. He yanked his drive way left on the par 5 5th hole but drew a decent lie in the scrub off the fairway. He crushed an iron to 6 feet right of the pin, drained the putt for an eagle, and then all he had to do was survive the rest of the way. He did better than that, closing with a Sunday 69, which gained him a stroke on his own scorecard and 3 on the field. 

Poor NBC, broadcasting its final men's US Open (the Women's Open is also at Pinehurst, this week) before Fox Sports takes over next year. No drama. No Tiger. No Phil. Yes, the course looked great, at least to everyone but this guy. Architecture buffs like me could be fascinated by the very entertaining interviews with Ben Crenshaw and the endless discussions of the "native vegetation" (personally I prefer "Carolina Gorse"). There were nice tributes to Payne Stewart in Rickie Fowler's Thursday outfit, and in defending champion Justin Rose's finish. By the time Dan Hicks and the incomparable Johnny Miller gave their heartfelt signoff, however, only the most diehard of golf fans were watching. 

That's too bad, but it's also the nature of the US Open. The Masters is about beauty, risk/reward calculation, Sunday charges, power and putting. The Open Championship is about the traditional nature of British links golf, about adapting to changing conditions and variable fortune. The PGA is seems lately to be about heat, and being able to play aggressively on a challenging course that is in excellent condition.

The US Open is purely about survival. The grueling difficulty of the course setups usually mean that anything around even par is a very good score. Runaway wins are uncommon, as are low scores on the weekend. When a good player has a lead like Kaymer, the only way to have an exciting finish is for the leader to absolutely implode. On Friday afternoon or Saturday, that might make it interesting to watch come Sunday. Really, though, no golf fans honestly would have wanted to see Kaymer implode over the final 18 holes. There's no fun in that, and he's a likable young guy with a beautiful golf swing. So the broadcast was just about the battle for second, Erik Compton's story, the golf course, and the fact that Martin Kaymer was just a lot better at golf this week than the other 155 men in the field. It will be interesting to see how the Fox Sports hype machine, with Joe Buck and Greg Norman, can handle a week like this. 

None of this is Martin Kaymer's problem, who served notice that his 2010 PGA Championship was no accident. He led a difficult US Open wire-to-wire, and closed the deal without breaking a sweat. With a five-shot lead going into the final round, the only thing that Martin Kaymer had to worry about was that late 2011 Martin Kaymer might show up. He didn't. I doubt we will see him again.