James Corrigan: Kaymer's rise to the top threatens new German stereotype: The masters of golf
For years in Germany it was social golf for an exclusive set, preserve of the hacking rich man, with all the gear and no idea. With Kaymer, it’s changing
Monday 28 February 2011
"Attempting to get at truth means rejecting stereotypes and clichés."
A very wise newspaper editor said that. Well, Harold Evans obviously wasn't a golf journalist and neither was he in Tucson last week. At the World Match Play, the stereotypes swarmed across the fairways as vividly as the clichés filled our copy.
There was Bubba Watson saying, "Bubba did good today" – American. There was Miguel Angel Jimenez chomping on a cigar, swigging Rioja – Spanish. And then there was Jason Day, refusing to concede an 18-inch putt to Paul Casey, "just to put him off". Guess what nationality this gracious sportsman happens to be? (Clue: his fellow countrymen wear baggy green caps, make Santa Claus look like a novice sledger and used to play Test cricket.)
Then there was yesterday's final itself. In one corner was the unassuming Englishman Luke Donald; in the other was the meticulous German Martin Kaymer. The former was the underdog trying for the win which had always eluded him; the latter was the new world No 1 who on Saturday had coolly grasped the precious tag off another of our brave boys. How marvellously convenient for us lazy hacks. All we needed was a whistled rendition of The Great Escape followed by a penalty shootout.
Except there is more to Kaymer than his efficient swing, organised gameplan and stoic temperament. And no, we don't mean the lederhosen and suspenders. While Germany can now boast two world No 1s and can therefore claim their golfing brilliance to be in stereo, Kaymer, like Bernhard Langer before him, actually rallied against type. For so long the Germans didn't view the game as a serious sport, as proven – if Mr Evans will allow it – by a popular cliché in their society: Haben sie noch sex – oder spielen sie schon golf? "Do you still have sex – or do you play golf?"
Remarkably, that saying is still in circulation, but thanks first to the endeavours of Langer and now to Kaymer, it is not as prone to have them slapping their leather-clad thighs in hilarity. The German Golf Federation reports that in two decades the number of courses has doubled to more than 750 and the number of golfers has leapt to more than 550,000. It still pales beside Britain with its 3,000-plus courses and 2.5m golfers. But the bug is biting and the generational swift is rendering the cliché defunct. At last Deutschland has woken up to the notion which Tiger Woods long lived by. It's possible to do both. Excessively.
Inevitably, there are many in the old elite not best pleased with the masses' newly-discovered love of the links. Yet at least they still have the Platzreife fighting for their exclusivity. After racism and sexism, the German licence must be the biggest disincentive to the golfing newcomer anywhere in the world. An ordinary three-day course to learn and pass costs upwards of £150. If anything emphasises Kaymer's achievement in scaling the world order surely it must be the dreaded Platzreife.
How many of his schoolmates decided not to join him on the weekend because of this certificate which must be produced to play any official course? Sorry to generalise, stereotype even, but as a rule teenagers aren't overly keen on taking exams in their spare time. The Platzreife consists of two tests: the written, which focuses on a knowledge of the rules and an understanding of the etiquette; and the practical, which ensures you can hit a ball without excavating a new Rhine in the process. That's what its supporters claim anyway. In reality there is something else odd about German golf – the 54 handicap. It is a farce and yet another testament to the feat of Langer and Kaymer in defying their own country's culture.
You can't "play" golf if you are a 54 handicap. That's offensive to hackers. But it means even the fattest German cat with the flattest, awful swing can feel competitive. He's not, of course. But his status in society says he should be. As does the Platzreife in his wallet.
While in Tucson – of all places – this last week, it's been bizarre to think that Kaymer has a permit for his three-wood, while the residents of Arizona don't need ones for their .44 Magnums. But there you go. Different cultures, different priorities. For years in Germany, it was social golf for an exclusive set. The preserve of the hacking rich man with all the gear and no idea. It's changing. There's not a Herr out of place on the fairway any more.
Kaymer is ensuring that is the case, probably more than even Langer could manage. The old man was the pioneer, the one-off; the young man is the critical validation of what is possible. When he was 15, Kaymer was told to choose between football and golf. This son of a professional footballer made a decision that few in that age group would understand. Now they will. They will see the second youngest No 1 in history, learn of his wealth and his fame across the globe and they will wonder, they will dream and they will try to emulate.
So how long could it take before the golfing master, with his scrupulous preparation, ordered mindset and nerveless precision, is seen as a German stereotype? In golf, it already is. Nummer eins has seen to it.
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