Commentary

Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia take NYC

Originally Published: February 22, 2011
By Cam Martin | Special to Page 2

New Yorkers walking down 54th Street on Feb. 15 were probably surprised to see professional golfers Martin Kaymer and Sergio Garcia hitting balls in a makeshift driving range outside the Golfsmith superstore.

Onlookers -- including Donald Trump -- weathered frigid temperatures at the "white-out" (a promotional event for TaylorMade's new R11 white-head driver which featured a smattering of manmade snow and a sea of golf fans wearing giveaway white hats) to watch as Kaymer, the No. 2-ranked golfer in the world, and Garcia, the former No. 2-ranked player (2008), demonstrated the unconventional driver that has the golf world buzzing.

As Garcia, who earned a reputation for his slow, finicky approach, was addressing his first tee shot, an antsy television reporter took the opportunity to comment -- during Garcia's backswing, no less -- "Come on, it doesn't matter if it's [a bad shot]."

If this had been during a tournament, a comment like that from the gallery might have precipitated a club toss and some heated words. Luckily the situation didn't call for it. The event was both a promotion for TaylorMade and a fundraiser for Operation Game On!, an organization that uses golf to raise money and awareness for handicapped veterans. A target was raised at one end of the driving range -- which was 17 feet wide, 45 feet high and 140 feet long -- and TaylorMade and Golfsmith donated money every time a golfer (including Garcia, Haymer and fans) hit the target with a drive. More than $40,000 was raised.

The R11 driver (which retails for $399) is all white, though the face is black. The head color is supposed to cut down on glare associated with black drivers and, as a bonus, look distinctively stylish. For golfers who've never known anything but black drivers, the look of the new club might seem gimmicky and discomfiting. But for the 31-year-old Garcia, acclimating to the new driver was carefree.

"Funny enough, I found it easy to look at. With a white ball [against a black face], the contrast is actually pretty nice, so it didn't feel odd at all. It was easy to get used to."

Ranked as high as No. 2 in the world just two years ago, Garcia has now fallen to 81st and is still chasing his first title in a major tournament -- 12 years after bursting onto the international sports scene by finishing runner-up to Tiger Woods at the 1999 PGA Championship. The Spaniard, a fan favorite renowned for his exuberance (at least when he was a bit younger) has shown flashes of his old self lately. He was 10 under par and one shot off the lead through two rounds of the Dubai Desert Classic, but he stumbled over the weekend and finished tied for 20th. That was his second top-20 finish of the young season, and he hopes to carry that momentum into his next tournament, the Transitions Championship in Tampa, Fla., in mid-March. Soon after that comes the Masters at Augusta National. Will this be the year he gets off the schneid to win his first major? Garcia, who began using the R11 driver last year, offered no promises or predictions.

"We'll see, we'll see," he said, smiling.

Golf fans who attended the "white-out" event also got to see Kaymer, the reigning PGA Championship winner, lay some wood with the R11. He has yet to use the club during a tournament, and given how well he played last year -- when he became the first player since Woods in 2007-08 to win three consecutive tournaments -- you might understand his reluctance to fiddle with new equipment. But the 26-year-old German, who beat Bubba Watson in a three-hole playoff at the PGA Championship, said he will work it into his bag in the near future.

He'll be joined by quite a few casual golf fans, said Marty Hanaka, chief executive officer of Golfsmith.

"TaylorMade has engineered a club with some unconventional customized features and the white aesthetics of the drivers is generating some of the biggest buzz the industry has seen in a long time," Hanaka said. "Out of the gates, this is the hottest-selling driver that we've seen in the last 10 years."

Cam Martin is a contributor to Page 2. He previously worked for the Greenwich (Conn.) Time and The (Stamford, Conn.) Advocate, and has written online for CBS Sports and Comcast SportsNet New England. You can contact him at cdavidmartin@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter: @CameronDMartin.


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