The experts all agreed; this US Open at Pinehurst No 2 would see a winning score of even-par or close to it. And they were right, nearly. By the end of the tournament, only three players were at par or better. The two runners-up finished at 1-under. The winner, seemingly playing in a league of his own, finished eight shots clear at 9-under. German Martin Kaymer had just played the tournament of his life.
A rain-softened course allowed Kaymer to open up with a pair of 5-under 65s on Thursday and Friday, giving him a six-shot lead. Even though this lead was reduced by one after round three, his 1-under 69 on the final day was three shots better than his closest pursuers. He really was in a league of his own
Kaymer’s remodelled swing came to the fore when he won last month’s Players Championship in similar lead-from-the-front fashion. He is clearly a more complete player than when he won his first major; the 2010 PGA Championship. Back then he was unexpectedly catapulted to World Number One – an event he wasn’t ready for.
“Four years ago I didn’t know what was happening,” he said. “I was surprised. I was not expecting myself to win a major at 25. I was surprised about my performance. I was surprised about a lot of things.”
Kaymer, who now joins McIlroy as the only players in their 20s with multiple majors, should no longer wonder at the level of golf he can produce. Not so McIlroy; “I’m wondering how he did that,” McIlroy said. “It’s really tough. I think I’ve made a total of nine birdies this week and I don’t see any more out there. What’s he made, 15 and an eagle and with hardly any mistakes? What he’s done is more impressive than what I did at Congressional. It’s so good to see him back where he belongs. Martin’s a really talented guy, such a hard worker and obviously a great player.”
In terms of human achievement, there is a huge story involving one of the runners-up – Erik Compton.
Regular readers of this column will recall the article Braveheart, published circa six-weeks back, covering the story of Erik Compton – journeyman golfer who took years to finally get his PGA Tour Card. This is the guy who underwent his first heart transplant at age 12. At age 28 he had to have another. On Sunday he played in the penultimate group in the final round of his first major.
“I never gotten this far along in my story,” Compton said Sunday night, choking back the tears. “It’s a career-opening thing for me. For me to put myself on the map and prove to the world that I’m not just the guy with two heart transplants.”
Compton had to endure sectional qualifying, including a two-hole playoff, just to get into the field. He finished with a 1-under 279, in a tie for second with Ricky Fowler.
As Compton approached the 18th, he was greeted by applause that was as loud as it would be a few minutes later, when the crowds welcomed the winner. When Compton managed to nail a tricky par-saving putt, thus ensuring he would finish in a tie for runner-up, the reaction of the now standing crowd would have led any bystander not in the know into believing Compton had actually won.
“It’s very exciting to play golf around people that are supporting you,” Compton said. “I’ve never had that feeling where so many people were cheering my name. It was just a really great week for me.”
Compton’s performance last week ensures him a start in the PGA Championship, the 2015 Masters and next year’s US Open – without the hassle of pre-qualifying. He should also move into the top 75 of the world rankings.
“My mom summed it pretty well the other night,” Compton recalled. “She said, ‘Erik’s a golfer with two transplants, not a transplant recipient who plays golf.’”
This was a truly remarkable achievement by a truly remarkable person.
From US Open to resort layout
The USGA’s Mike Davis, the guy charged with running US Opens, was pleased with how Pinehurst No 2 played.
“I thought the golf course played beautifully. What’s interesting about this is what you see out there right now is not significantly different than what a resort guest would see or what the women (LPGA) will see for next week. I think the difference is for normal play, the greens simply aren’t this fast, they aren’t this firm. One of the things is they can literally, if they wanted it, open it up for resort play tomorrow, just slow the greens down, and bingo, there you are.”
Just goes to show the effect hard and fast greens can have, especially when they are domed!