MEDINAH, Ill. — Nothing will ever wipe away the memory of Bernhard Langer's big miss at the 1991 Ryder Cup that lost the competition for Europe, but on Sunday afternoon at the 39th Ryder Cup, fellow countryman Martin Kaymer did his best to ensure Germany has a positive memory in the annals of Ryder Cup history after he rolled in the winning putt on the 18th to clinch the cup for Europe.
Playing against Steve Stricker there wasn't a reason to believe the biennial competition would come down to the second-to-last singles match. With the U.S. leading 10-6 at the beginning of the day and needing only 4 1/2 points to clinch, it looked like the match result would be a Ryder Cup footnote.
But as the day wore on and Europe picked up point after point, the match between two of the competition's biggest underachievers suddenly became the most critical on the course. Locked in a hotly contested battle for much of the day, Kaymer birdied the 13th to take a 1-up lead for the third time in the match, and then held on for the win with some clutch shot-making and putting -- two things we haven't seen from the young German over the last two years.
In the days leading up to the Ryder Cup, Kaymer was considered a Ryder Cup also-ran -- the one guy on the team who likely wouldn't make a difference if the biennial competition came down to the wire. It was a far cry from the way he was viewed at the 2010 Ryder Cup.
After winning the PGA Championship in 2010 and ascending to the top spot in the Official World Golf Rankings early in 2011, Kaymer went into a tailspin of epic proportions following a failed attempt to change his fade ball flight to a draw to suit Augusta National's layout.
The decision backfired on Kaymer. He missed the cut at the Masters and never regained his form, dropping all the way to 32nd in the world rankings. His swing, and mind-set, completely shot, he barely qualified for the European team, grabbing the last automatic spot by a razor-thin margin.
Making the Ryder Cup is a huge accomplishment, but Kaymer's announcement came with a lukewarm response. There were crazy rumors that he should feign injury and miss the Ryder Cup; other wanted European captain Jose Maria Olazabal to sit him on the bench until Sunday singles.
No one had faith in Kaymer's abilities. He was a Ryder Cup leper. Not even the German himself believed he could be a factor at the event. But everything changed Friday after a chat with Langer about the Ryder Cup's importance.
"On Friday I sat down with Bernhard [Langer] and talked to him a little bit about the Ryder Cup because my attitude wasn't the right one," Kaymer said. "But now after that match today against Stever [Stricker], I know how important the Ryder Cup became and is for [Jose Maria] Olazabal, and Bernhard helped me so much just to sit down with me and talk about it."
Europe certainly needed Kaymer to be at his absolute best in his match against Stricker. Lucky for Olazabal and Europe, Kaymer delivered when it mattered most with a performance that people will remember for years to come.
He was a forgotten man before the week, but following Sunday's heroics at Medinah, Kaymer is back at the forefront of the game. All it took was one career-defining putt on golf's biggest stage to make it happen.