You are playing in your first Masters this week. What did you make of Augusta on your first visit there recently, with Fanny Sunesson? Hilly. Very hilly. Fanny and I just walked the course, because she thought if I played I would be focusing on my swing and not on the course. I was really impressed by the shape of the course, the shape of the holes. And the greens are so fast. On the ninth green, I put a couple of balls on the left side and the pin was right front. I made a couple of putts and my first three putts went all the way down there on to the fairway. That gave me a taste of what can happen in the tournament. I just see it as a great experience this early in my career. The first goal is to make the cut.
Did Fanny tell you anything about her experiences when caddying for Nick Faldo when he won the Masters? We were talking about 1996, about Greg Norman and all that. We talked about it a lot. But mainly she just gave me some tips about the course; where the flags will be, where you should place the ball, where the ball is dead, where you have no chance. Just generally about course management, strategy and other stuff. You know, Fanny's been there 18 times already. She has a lot of experience there.
Have you sought any advice from a fellow German, Bernhard Langer? Not yet. My contact with him hasn't been that much so far to be honest. I met him in Munich at the BMW International Open last year and we played nine holes and when I was in Miami a few weeks ago he gave me a call. We were talking about Augusta and he asked me if I'm interested in playing a practice round with him. I said: "It would be a great honour to play with you." We have arranged to have a round on Tuesday. He won there twice. So it is fair to say he knows the course. He knows it ever so well.
Did you watch the Masters when you were young? Always. I would pull out of school just to watch the Masters. It's a special event. Unfortunately I did not see Langer winning in 1994. I was only nine and had only just started getting interested.
You were a good footballer when you were young. Good enough to be a pro? When I was 14 or 15, definitely. I was always thinking about golf and football, but I was more into golf, because it's an individual sport and right now I'm my own boss. That was one reason. The other reason was I just saw the potential and I saw that I can make it on the European Tour. I loved football, though. I was a striker. I played for a small town in Düsseldorf for the first eight or nine years and then I joined Fortuna Düsseldorf. I signed forms, but we just got boots and kit. I didn't get paid.
Is it true that your father was a professional footballer and your grandfather a professional boxer? At around the age of 20, my father did make a little bit of money playing football but it was nothing special. I don't know where the boxing thing came from. It's a myth. I read in a newspaper the other day that my father was a professional boxer. Then I came home and he was raising his fists and saying "put them up". Funny.
You had a very quick climb into the world's top 50. Were you surprised how quick? Yes, it has been very, very quick. When I turned pro in 2006 the plan was to play on the development tour in Germany for one year, then qualify for the Challenge Tour and then, if I was lucky, to graduate to the European Tour the next year. But I did it all in one year and won Rookie of the Year last year on the European Tour. It was a little bit too much in the beginning. I took a couple of weeks off and went to America to sort out my thoughts.
How do you know Fanny? I met here four or five years ago when she was doing some things with the German amateur team. She was teaching us course management strategy. I always kept in contact after that. She helps me and found me my caddie.
Is it frustrating to be playing golf in Germany when it is still a minority sport there? I see golf getting bigger and bigger in my country. At my gym you can play golf now and there are also offers for children to play for free. It is growing all the time.
Do you ever get recognised in the street? Probably not. Yet in England last year when I was at the airport, I went to Burger King and there was a girl who said: "Did you just play in the tournament at Wentworth?" I said, "Yeah" and she said, "Oh, that's amazing". The boss from Burger King then gave me my food for free. It was so cool.
What is the strongest part of your game? My driving, definitely. My putting can struggle a little. It's fine on a good day. The rest of my game is always solid, but I need to putt well. Other players always putt well but can't keep the ball on the fairway. I am mostly always on the fairway.
Did you meet Tiger Woods when you came second to him in Dubai in January? Before the prize-giving we were sitting in the players' lounge and we had a chat for 30 minutes. When I entered the lounge, he stood up, came over to me, put out his hand and said, "Hi, I'm Tiger Woods." He then congratulated me on winning in Abu Dhabi and told me he'd heard a lot about me. He's a very nice person. I watched him on the driving range that Tuesday. I stood just behind him like a fan and watched for 45 minutes. Very impressive. It motivated me to do more practice.
At 23 you are the only player under 25 in the world's top 50. Why are there so few young guys at the top end of golf? I don't know, although I have noticed Oli Fisher and Rory McIlroy doing very well. I have no answer. I'm just doing what I love. I'm just doing my normal job.
Have you met Faldo, the European Ryder Cup captain? I met him in Arizona at the WGC Match Play in February. We talked a little bit. Of course it would be nice to be on the team, but that's a long way off. Faldo was one of my role models. He was a great player with a great work ethic. I believe that if you want to be successful then you have to do everything you possibly can. For example, when I spent the last few winters in America practising in the warm weather, I celebrated Christmas, my birthday, New Year's Eve by myself. It's not nice. But that's what has to be done.
* Born 28 December 1984, Düsseldorf
* Tournament wins
2003 Austrian Amateur Open Championship. 2004 Austrian Amateur Closed Championship
2005 Central German Classic. 2006 Friedberg Classic; Habsberg Classic; Coburg Brose Open; Gut Winterbrock Classic; Hockenberg Classic
2006 Vodafone Challenge; Open des Volcans
2008 Abu Dhabi Golf ChampionshipReuse content