Sports Columns

June 19, 2014

Loran Smith: Kaymer now part of U.S. Open lore

This past weekend’s U.S. Open at North Carolina’s Pinehurst Resort and Country Club was not the thriller the tournament has often been, but it was a reminder that the best shotmakers are likely to win the national championship of golf.

Sometimes you get several players who bring their best game, leaving the championship undecided until the final hole of regulation play — or beyond — but there are times when there is one guy who becomes the lonely figure at the top. That was the case this year as Martin Kaymer set the 36-hole record over the first two days on his way to an eight-stroke victory on Sunday.

He became Germany’s second major champion when he won the PGA Championship in 2010, joining Bernhard Langer in that exclusive club, and the 29-year-old Kaymer is likely to claim additional majors if he maintains the efficiency that underscored his play on Pinehurst’s No. 2 course.

Kaymer’s back-to-back rounds of 5-under-par 65 on Thursday and Friday gave him a 10-stroke lead that allowed him to play without being seriously challenged. The U.S. Open is never easy, but seldom has a player enjoyed a more advantageous position than Kaymer did last weekend.

It seems that par usually wins this tournament, or has traditionally, but there are more good players now than ever. And changes in equipment over the years have changed the game. Advances in club technology have given players an accurate reach off the tee that allows them to use mid- to short-irons where the titans of the past — Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead, for example — were hitting long-irons or woods.

Then you think about Jack Nicklaus in his prime. Nobody had the advantage off the tee the Golden Bear enjoyed. There were many times when he could use a one-iron or a three-wood. He could hit a three-wood farther than many players could hit a driver, giving him an advantage in finding the fairway because he could use the more accurate club.

The greatest thing about Nicklaus, which is seldom mentioned, is that even with all that power he had a marvelous touch on the greens. Once during a tournament when there was a rain delay and Arnold Palmer was hanging around the press tent, a conversation developed about who were the sport’s great putters. Several names came up. Bobby Jones and Billy Casper seemed to be the favorites. Palmer noted, acutely, that when a putt had to be made, nobody was better than Nicklaus.

There are so many interesting notes about the U.S. Open. One of the most intriguing is that Orville Moody won the championship but Snead did not. While at the Masters one year, I got into a conversation with Snead about his failure to win the U.S. Open. His explanation was simply that it wasn’t meant to be. He accepted his fate as something that was ordained.

Another interesting recollection about the U.S. Open — four-time winner Hogan was astounded when Johnny Miller shot a 63 in the final round of the 1973 tournament at Pennsylvania’s Oakmont Country Club, coming from behind to win in sensational fashion on Sunday.

I remember that the following year at the Masters, Hogan was surrounded by inquisitive reporters outside the clubhouse at Augusta National. Someone stopped him and asked a question. Before you knew it, a crowd had gathered. Hogan didn’t return to Augusta every year, but when he did, he always attracted a big media crowd.

Hogan explained that he simply did not understand how anyone could score such a low round in the national championship.

“Whoever heard of such a thing?” Hogan asked.

“Maybe,” Hogan added, “he didn’t know what he was doing.”

For sure, Martin Kaymer knew what he was doing last week at Pinehurst, but he would be wise to remember that in sport, nothing is secure.

If you stumble, no one is going to give you a helping hand.

Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at loransmith@sports.uga.edu.

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