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“I Stopped Thinking”

The first two days of the Players Championship were dominated by two of the game’s twenty somethings.

A resurgent Martin Kaymer tied the course record with a flawless opening round of 9-under par, 63.  He followed that up with a 69 to have a one shot lead over Jordan Spieth who played his first two rounds without a bogey on the famed TPC Sawgrass, Stadium course.

29 year old Kaymer was the #1 ranked player in the world for a short period in 2011 and won the PGA Championship at Whistling Straights in 2010, but has been struggling with his swing for the last year. 

What he had to say after his opening round was something straight out of The Double Connexion https://www.birdgolf.com/think-like-a-pro/ .  It will have a familiar ring to Bird Golf students: “I stopped thinking.  I thought a lot the last two years about swing changes … that every shot I made I reflect on it, what I did wrong, what I did right.  And then it just clicked a little bit.  It’s just a matter of getting the confidence on the golf course and then letting it happen and really doing it.”

This is only the second tournament Spieth has played since his runner-up finish in the Masters where he had a 3 shot lead with 11 holes to play before faltering slightly on the back 9 and to be the bridesmaid to Bubba Watson.   Nonetheless, it was a pretty impressive performance by the 20 year old Spieth, who so many pundits have tagged as the game’s next great superstar. 

Spieth’s third round would once again reflect the maturity of a player twice his age as he navigated the Dye-designed TPC course that is perhaps the Tour’s biggest “risk-reward’ venue without making a bogey.   Spieth became only the second player in the 41 year history of the event to do so, the other being Greg Norman in his runaway 7-shot triumph in 1994. 

To add to the significance of that accomplishment, this is Spieth’s inaugural Players Championship.  He had never played the course before his first practice round last Sunday and there are a lot of nuances to learning how to navigate the PGA Tour’s marquee venue.  

Spieth’s 17 par, 1 birdie round of 71, would leave him tied for the overnight lead with Kaymer who shot an even par round of 72.  Both players would head into Sunday’s final round 3 shots clear of the field at 12-under par.

Spieth took a one shot lead over Kaymer with birdies on two of his first four holes to begin Sunday’s final round.   His error free streak ended on the par-4 5th where he would finally make his first bogey of the week.  That would leave him and Kaymer tied for the lead at 13-under par and now only two shots clear of the field that was starting to gather menacingly behind the two young leaders.

The two players who had closed the gap with the biggest moves were 2008 Champion Sergio Garcia, and local favorite, Jim Furyk, who has made Ponte Vedra his home for the last 20 years.   In an almost exact replica of his play around the turn at the Masters, Spieth then made two more bogies on the 8th and 10th holes, while Kaymer would press his advantage with birdies on the 9th and 11th holes to take a 4 shot cushion over Spieth when rain stopped play as they were on the 14th hole.       

When play resumed, the ever consistent Furyk would post the early clubhouse score to beat at 12-under par, but that was 3 behind Kaymer and looked to be another 2nd place finish for the man with the most unusual swing in golf.  

It was however, a very different Kaymer who came out playing after the delay.  A careless chip on the 15th hole led to a double bogey, 6 and all of a sudden his comfortable lead had shrunk to one.

The fabled trilogy of holes 16-18 that are golf’s ultimate thrill ride (for spectators more than players) where water looms at every turn and where so many hearts have been broken, would be the final challenge for Kaymer.  

Kaymer failed to take advantage of a birdie opportunity on the par-5 16th and then things got really exciting.  His tee shot on the island green 17th hole cleared both the water and greenside bunker and landed on a raised area of the green before beginning to spin back towards the water.   The ball seemed destined for the water before its momentum was stopped by clump of grass near the railroad ties that form the perimeter of the green.  Kaymer had an awkward stance with his chip shot that he would hit poorly leaving him a 28 foot putt for par.  Which he would make to retain his one shot advantage.

Two solid shots to the front of the green to the last hole and two putts later, Kaymer would become the Players Champion.  

Garcia would finish in 3rd place at 11-under par and Spieth in a tie for 4th, a further shot back, after another disappointing Sunday.

This victory on Mother’s Day was an emotional one for Kaymer who lost his Mother 6 years ago to cancer.  Said Kaymer: ”To win on Mother’s Day … we show our parents way too little.  We always need some occasions to show them, which is what you realize when they’re not there anymore.   I think about her every day.  I don’t need a Mother’s Day.”

His victory also makes him a member of a very exclusive club of players who have won a Major, a World Championship event and a Players Championship.  The members of that club?  Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott. 

It would seem that all that “not thinking” is doing wonders indeed