Commentary

Martin Kaymer is one cool customer

Originally Published: February 22, 2011
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- There are certain things we cannot learn about the world's best golfers simply by watching them on the course. For instance, Martin Kaymer smiles. Pretty often, actually. It is not the toothy mien of Tiger Woods or the Cheshire cat grin of Phil Mickelson or the class-clown smirk of Lee Westwood. Instead, it's a closed-mouth upturn of pursed lips, the complete opposite of his face's natural default setting.

What's more interesting than how he smiles, though, is why he smiles. Sure, there are images that cause such emotion, from thoughts of the sunrise appearing over the horizon as he warms up on the driving range to his beloved McDonald's French fries. But more often Kaymer smiles less for his own satisfaction than to make others feel at ease.

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Ross Kinnaird/Getty ImagesMartin Kaymer, playing with No. 1 Lee Westwood and No. 3 Tiger Woods in Dubai earlier this year, walks in front of his playing partners. He might be ahead of them in the world rankings soon, too.

At the root of his personality, he is a pleaser. If he worked in your office, he'd be the one surprising everyone with coffee in the morning or staying late to assist a coworker. It's an arresting juxtaposition, since men in his position are supposed to be coddled and handled with care, yet he still acts as if he's the one who needs to make a good impression. It isn't difficult for him. He is unfailingly polite, exuding a boyish charm that leaves mothers enchanted and daughters swooning.

And so he smiles when he greets fans, mirroring their excitement at meeting the world's second-ranked golfer. He smiles when someone tells a lame joke. He even smiles when a situation goes awry, as if his defense mechanism is to comfort those around him. He smiles all the time, it seems, except when he's playing in golf tournaments.

It's hard to believe this is the same Martin Kaymer who is stone-faced during competition, his robotic machinations allowing for more than a few quiet comparisons to automotive forms of efficient German engineering. This is the same guy who won the most recent major, last year's PGA Championship, and promptly celebrated with a hearty handshake.

He has won five titles worldwide since the beginning of last year -- not including a spot on the victorious European Ryder Cup team -- and at 26 is primed to become the second-youngest player ever to ascend to No. 1 on the Official World Golf Ranking. Still, he remains wide-eyed at the public's growing fascination with him, in awe of the fact anyone wants to pay him any attention.

On this particular brisk February morning, Kaymer is being shuttled around New York City as part of a marketing campaign for TaylorMade's new R11 driver, which features a unique white clubhead as one of its main selling points. It explains why, when he emerges from his posh hotel to start the day, Kaymer is dressed head-to-toe in nothing but white. White jacket, white shirt, white pants, white shoes. It would be enough to make any macho man feel utterly self-conscious, a lonely snowflake in a sea of colors. But he just smiles -- see, it happens -- and happily claims, "I feel like a doctor!"

Just from observing Kaymer's mannerisms, it's easy to understand why he's an elite golfer. Forget work ethic and swing mechanics and putting acumen. Many of the game's top pros spend thousands of dollars each year on sports psychologists whose main theories boil down to, "Don't sweat the small stuff." It's an inherent trait for Kaymer. He doesn't turn negatives into positives so much as he keeps everything neutral, his mindset balanced at all times like one of those scales at a supermarket deli.

That isn't to say he doesn't get a little excited at times, too. First stop for this day is a production studio, where he will conduct an interview via satellite. Kaymer maintains that he's not only getting used to these question-and-answer sessions, he actually enjoys them -- though he wishes more of them would proffer different queries. And so when this one with a morning television program is fueled by not only the usual rhetoric about majors and world ranking, but also his fondness for Bon Jovi and reluctance toward social media, upon conclusion he repeatedly tells those nearby, "That was a lot of fun!" No hint of sarcasm, no lack for a smile.

Next up on the itinerary is what's being promoted as a "White Out." A makeshift driving range complete with faux snow has been erected in the middle of 54th Street in Manhattan. Along with fellow TaylorMade endorser Sergio Garcia and with a cameo from golf impresario Donald Trump, Kaymer hits a few balls in front of the crowd, poses for photographs, signs autographs, grants interviews and generally glad-hands everyone in the near vicinity -- all while smiling. For them, of course; not just for himself.

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Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesNow 26, Martin Kaymer won the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits when he was just 25 years old.

It's the type of marketing extravaganza that would leave a more grizzled veteran cranky and ornery. Not that others aren't similarly grateful for the opportunities that world-class talent for hitting a little ball into a hole in the ground have wrought, it's just that they aren't wired like Kaymer. That is to say, they aren't pleasers in the most innate form.

And that's OK. Hey, it takes more than a little selfishness to become one of the world's best golfers, let alone stay there. Instead, Kaymer is devoid of such ego to the extent where you wonder if he's too nice, too genuine to someday dominate the world of golf. Then you quickly remember that this easygoing guy is an unaffected, workmanlike competitor on the course and, well, domination seems entirely plausible.

When the event is over, he needs to hightail it back to his hotel to pack, check out, eat lunch, conduct one more interview and catch a ride to the airport, where he will fly back to his adopted hometown of Scottsdale, Ariz.

There is enough time, but there's also a problem. The car which was supposed to deliver him back to the hotel has apparently gone missing. And so he waits ... and waits ... and waits. It would be enough to cause even a mid-handicap schlub to act like a diva, but Kaymer stands on a sidewalk in Midtown without a trace of worry, still posing for photographs, still signing autographs and -- yes -- still smiling.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn.com.

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.

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