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Watch out for the German kid

Martin Kaymer is on a hot streak entering the British Open. He's not the only youngster climbing the rankings.

July 16, 2009|Chuck Culpepper

TURNBERRY, SCOTLAND — You wake one day on a golfing planet gone merciless and Sergio Garcia seems middle-aged, Adam Scott winds up dumped to No. 43 and the rankings teem with those who arrived young but utterly ready to rumble.

Nine of the top 26 players have not reached age 30, the same goes for 16 of the top 50, and one underlying theme of this 138th British Open entails whether golf's largest wave of precocity to date might deposit one of its 20-somethings somewhere well up the Sunday leaderboard.

That could further tax the dimpled brains that follow the sport, minds that already must keep up with fresh blood from Glover to McIlroy to O'Hair to Kim to Villegas to Mahan to Fisher, but now also must contemplate Kaymer.

That's Martin Kaymer, unrecognizable to most Americans, and apparently unrecognizable on sidewalks even to most of his fellow Germans. But if you need a primer, he's the one who cradled the French Open and Scottish Open trophies the last two Sundays, becoming the first player since Ian Woosnam in 1990 to win the last two pre-Open tournaments.

That booked him business class to No. 11 in the world and to his own pre-British Open news conference in which this 24-year-old pup supplied wizened tips on how to navigate the stress of Sunday contention.

"And you kind of learn it," he said, "how to react and how your body changed or, I don't know, how your swing changed as well if you're in contention. Everything is a little different. And if you know how to handle it and what will happen when you are in contention again or close to winning a tournament, then you can probably fix the problem."

So go ahead, add him and the tranquil mind he says he got from his parents to golf's youthful upsurge.

"It's an impressive group," said Greg Norman, the veteran of 54 who charmed the 2008 British Open by leading after 54 holes. "I think it's a sign of the times. They start so early now, and their training technique and conditioning is so generally top-class that these kids come out here prepared to play.

"They have no fear. And the thing that really impresses me is that they're from all over; they're a truly global group. I think it's great, and it's great for golf."

Factoring in No. 5-ranked Garcia at age 29 after 10 long years of fame, No. 11 Kaymer at 24, No. 12 Camilo Villegas at 27, No. 13 Sean O'Hair at 27, No. 15 Anthony Kim at 24, No. 19 Lucas Glover at 29, No. 21 Ross Fisher at 28, No. 22 Rory McIlroy at 20 and No. 26 Hunter Mahan at 27, you have Spain, Germany, Colombia, the United States, England and Northern Ireland.

The same elite chunk of the ranking included three players under 30 in 2004, six in 1999, four in 1989, and never more than three nations at a time.

When you figure that even excludes comers such as Nick Watney at No. 34 or Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano at No. 40, it's so crowded that it's no wonder Scott's uncharacteristic slump -- seven missed cuts in the last nine outings -- has dropped him from No. 3 to No. 43.

Those elbowing on by for now include even somebody from Germany, a curiosity given the mysterious inability of Bernhard Langer's homeland and Europe's biggest economy to produce elite players on a par with, say, Sweden.

Kaymer, an Ernie Els admirer from childhood, looks barely old enough to drive but proves old enough to drive accurately in Sunday back-nine duress. He beat Lee Westwood in a playoff in France and celebrated briefly by having one drink in a German gas station with his father on his way home to Dusseldorf. He beat everybody by at least two strokes in a Scottish Open during which he claimed to eat ribs every night.

"You see a few players that are a little more freaky, and I grew up as a calm player so that always helped me in my golf," Kaymer said Wednesday of a blurry three weeks spent chasing obedient golf balls and elusive sleep.

He has become another reason it's all the more remarkable that Kenny Perry can survey all of this from the No. 4 ranking and a Methuselan age of 48. In the grand evolution of the game, these youths have arrived equipped with moxie that took the perfectly talented Perry decades to accrue.

"I wish I was in my mid-20s now and was fourth in the world, because my mentality, I've changed so much in 20 years out there," Perry said. "It's just taken me a long time to figure it out, to be comfortable, relaxed, enjoy the people and the crowds and the traveling."

But because he did, he has developed a familiar refrain when describing some round alongside some relative child -- as with Kim in practice here. After saying of Kim, "He's a hoot, he's such a kid," Perry resorted to his kicker so useful in the era: "He's the same age as my son."

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chuck.culpepper@yahoo.com

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British Open

When: Today-Sunday.

Course: Turnberry, Scotland, Ailsa Course.

Length: 7,204 yards.

Par: 35-35 -- 70.

British Open champions at Turnberry: Tom Watson (1977), Greg Norman (1986), Nick Price (1994).

Noteworthy: For the first time since 2004, Tiger Woods does not hold any major titles.

TV (all times PDT): Today-Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (delayed), TNT. Saturday, 4-6 a.m., TNT; 6-11:30 a.m., Channel 7. Sunday, 3-5 a.m., TNT; 5-10:30 a.m., Channel 7.

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