'Rookie' a misnomer for Martin Kaymer
NEWPORT, Wales -- Two years ago, Martin Kaymer received the call he had always hoped for.
It was from Europe's captain Nick Faldo, asking the young pro to join his team at the upcoming Ryder Cup festivities.
There was just one small catch: He wouldn't be playing.
Kaymer, then 23, was invited to attend the event as the team's de facto little brother, tagging along while his 12 peers competed throughout the week. If this were football, they would have taped him to a goalpost; if it were baseball, he would have had a pink knapsack strapped to his back.
Instead, he was treated as just one of the guys at Valhalla.
"There's too much respect for him," said Justin Rose, who played on that team. "He's a great player, and golf's not like that, which is a cool thing. He wasn't running errands. He was just there strictly to observe, and we all made him comfortable."
Faldo's theory behind adding Kaymer to the team had less to do with the present than with the future. The native of Germany has been a budding superstar since turning pro in 2005, so it was assumed that he would be a stalwart on the roster for years to come.
"I felt it was a great opportunity to bring some rookies here who just missed out on the team," the captain said just before that event. "I thought it would be a good experience for them to come and feel it, as we all talk about the Ryder Cup. You can't guess it. You can't guess what this week is all about, even in your wildest dreams. So this was one of my ideas."
The idea might pay dividends this week, when Kaymer -- who has transformed from budding superstar to a fully evolved version in the past 24 months -- enters the festivities as one of the main cogs for his team.
Less than two months removed from winning the PGA Championship, he already owns three worldwide victories this season. Perhaps just as impressive as Kaymer's on-course success, though, is his maturity level, which extends well beyond his 25 years.
Need proof? Consider how he views that Ryder Cup experience from two years ago.
"It was pretty much a nice little overview about everything," Kaymer explained. "I got to talk to the caddies, the players, the spectators and the captain. For me, it was fantastic to see it. I was kind of like a normal competitor. I was in team meetings, at the dinners, at the parties, at the functions that they have to do. I was walking up the stairwell with them. I was kind of a little mouse, you know, following them around. It was fantastic and interesting.
"Looking back, I think it was good that I didn't make it because I think it would have been a little too early for me. But now I know that I'm ready to play."
He'd better be. At No. 5 in the Official World Golf Ranking, Kaymer is second on that list only to ailing Lee Westwood among his teammates. He was also a popular man in Europe's team room before the week even began, with nearly every player considering him as a strong fit as a partner in the four opening sessions.
And why not? While U.S. Ryder Cup players Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson were making headlines for late blunders at Whistling Straits, he persevered with the cool efficiency of a luxury German automobile, winning his first major championship at age 25, thanks to a repeatable swing, sturdy putting stroke and dogged determination.
Others might claim greater style points, but few have posted better results this season. It's almost as if big bombers Johnson and Watson were providing us with a visual aid for that comparison in the latter stages of the PGA final round.
Kaymer is one of just three players with a troika of wins on major circuits this season, joining fellow Ryder Cuppers Miguel Angel Jimenez and Jim Furyk on that exclusive list. Kaymer triumphed at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship in January and the KLM Open in September, sandwiching that title at the year's final major, which was a culmination of some inspired golf in the biggest events. After missing the cut at the Masters, he finished T-8 at the U.S. Open and T-7 at the Open Championship.
We shouldn't have been surprised by Kaymer's major breakthrough, nor should there have been any shock from his subdued approach to celebration.
"I'm not a big celebrator," he admits. "Obviously, I was very happy and very proud to win the PGA Championship, but I'm not a big fist-pumper like Tiger Woods. I kind of celebrated in a very German way."
Asked whether a victory at Celtic Manor would elicit more emotion, he sounds almost giddy -- well, for him, at least -- at the prospect.
"At the Ryder Cup," he said, "you might see a different Martin Kaymer, yes."
Just not too different. After all, he reached this level based on his assembly-line-like consistency, a strategy that often performs well in this format.
And although Ryder Cup rookies often feel their knees buckle at the pressure of it all, don't expect Kaymer to be shaken by nerves. Remember: He's been here before.
Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn.com.
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38TH MATCHES AT CELTIC MANOR
In his career, the Ryder Cup has meant everything to Colin Montgomerie. That's why leading the Europeans to victory Monday as captain stands as a crowning achievement. Bob Harig | Championship CentralDate: Oct. 1-4, 2010
2010 champion: Europe
Course: Celtic Manor Twenty Ten Course
Where: Newport, Wales, United Kingdom
Rosters: United States | Europe