Victory puts Martin Kaymer on the map

8/16/2010 - Golf Martin Kaymer

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. -- Martin Kaymer was barely 4 months old when Bernhard Langer won the first of his two Masters, and yet the age difference is hardly a barrier.

When you are from a country that produces a dearth of golfers, let alone world-class players, you are going to share a bond.

And it can't get much stronger than it did on Sunday at Whistling Straits, where Kaymer, 25, became just the second German to win a major championship.

Langer, as you would expect, was riveted to his television at home in Florida.

"It would be huge,'' Langer said by telephone as he watched Kaymer play the back nine. "It's very important for Germany. He's got a great head on his shoulders. He's still very young, but he is much more mature than his age. He's got good looks, a great temperament and it would be wonderful for not only if he were to win this major but also to get in the Ryder Cup.''

Kaymer did just that, shooting a 2-under-par 70 at Whistling Straits that included a clutch 15-foot par putt on the final hole that put him in a three-hole aggregate playoff against Bubba Watson.

Dustin Johnson would have joined them were it not for a 2-stroke penalty assessed on the final hole.

In the playoff, Kaymer fell behind when Watson birdied the first hole, but tied it with a birdie at the 17th (the second playoff hole). Kaymer won with a bogey at the 18th after Watson's approach found a hazard.

Kaymer became the sixth first-time winner in the past seven major championships. At age 25, Kaymer is the youngest player to win a major since Tiger Woods was the same age in 2001.

He also locked up a spot on the European Ryder Cup team -- Nick Faldo brought him along to watch in 2008 knowing he would be a future participant. And now, it appears, a longtime team member.

Although he might be somewhat of an unknown in the United States, Kaymer, who is from Dusseldorf, makes his home in the Phoenix area despite playing predominantly on the European Tour.

Now a six-time winner on the European Tour, Kaymer won back-to-back tournaments last year at the French and Scottish opens before suffering a foot injury in a go-kart accident. He won the Abu Dhabi Championship earlier this year and came into the PGA Championship ranked 13th in the world.

"Obviously it was a very exciting week and to win my … I hope it's one of many majors that I will win in my career,'' Kaymer said. "It's spectacular.''

And it is impressive considering his background. Germany is not a big golf nation. The country of some 80 million people has roughly 800,000 golfers and only 700 courses. Kaymer played soccer early on and then took up golf through his parents. It wasn't until he was 15 -- 10 years ago -- that he got serious about the game.

Langer, who was part of the big five of European golf in the 1980s and 1990s (along with Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam), gave the game a big boost at home, but it is still nowhere near the level it is in the United States or the United Kingdom.

"The problem in Germany is that golf is a recreational sport," said Frieder Pfeiffer, who works for the website golf.de and was the only print reporter from Germany at the PGA Championship. "We have a lot of golfers but not so many who follow it as a sport. If we post [articles about] lessons, it gets more clicks than a story about Tiger Woods.''

That, of course, makes Kaymer's rise to greatness all the more remarkable.

"What Bernhard did in his career … I think I have a long way to go,'' said Kaymer. Langer won 42 times on the European Tour and 71 times around the world. He recently won back-to-back majors on the Champions Tour. "He was always one of my heroes for sure.

"I just hope with the win, golf is getting bigger and bigger in Germany. I'm trying to make golf more popular in Germany. Bernhard Langer … obviously he inspired me when I was a kid, and I hope that I can inspire teenagers as well.

"My role model was and still is Ernie Els. I just love that guy, how the guy swings the golf club.''

A lot of folks love how Kaymer swings the golf club. He has a solid, powerful swing and a nice short game and came up big on several occasions Sunday.

His only slip came at the par-4 15th, where he failed to get up and down from off the green and made a bogey to fall into a tie for the lead.

When he missed the green short at the 18th, he had to make a long pitch onto the green and gave himself a 15-footer for par that he had to make -- as Watson was already in the clubhouse. Kaymer drained it, then played the playoff in even par to capture his first major.

Kaymer can now take up membership on the PGA Tour and plans to play more in the United States next year.

"The majors, they are the biggest tournaments we play, and just knowing that I can win a tournament like that gives me huge confidence for any other tournament I will play for the rest of my career,'' Kaymer said. "Now I know that I can win and that I can beat the best players in the world.

"This was the toughest field all year and just for myself, for my confidence, I think this is the biggest thing that you can get.''

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.