PINEHURST, N.C. -- As golf continues its never-ending search for the Next Big Thing (stand in line, fellas) and the return of the Old Big Thing (see you at the Open Championship, Tiger?), maybe it's time to consider the newest member of the two-time majors club.
Martin Kaymer picked up his U.S. Open varsity letter sweater Sunday. He didn't just win the tournament, he pinned it against the brackish-colored Pinehurst No. 2 sand hill fairways until it threw up its arms in surrender.
"Overall, what should I say?" Kaymer said. "Very happy."
He could say you're not supposed to win U.S. Opens by 8 shots. And you're definitely not supposed to finish in near-double-digit North Carolina State-red numbers at 9-under-par. But that's what Kaymer did, shooting a Sunday 69 on a course that prides itself in making players say, "Wait, my ball rolled off the green where?"
Kaymer has now won a U.S. Open and a PGA Championship (2010). He's halfway to a career Grand Slam before his 30th birthday. That's more majors than Lee Westwood, Colin Montgomerie and Adam Scott; the same number as Greg Norman, Rory McIlroy and Kaymer's mentor and idol Bernhard Langer; one less than the likes of Payne Stewart, Billy Casper and Hale Irwin.
In other words, big boy territory.
With Kaymer's swing, disposition and attitude, he could win a third major next month at Royal Liverpool. Or if you use Kaymer's math, an unofficial fourth major (he counts his May win at the Players Championship).
Whatever. The point is, Kaymer isn't going anywhere, except to a leaderboard near you. He might not be the Next Big Thing, but he's at least an XL.
What's there not to like? He has won two different majors. He has made the Ryder Cup-clinching putt. He has won pedigree tournaments like the Players and 12 tournaments in all on the PGA and European tours. He slept on the U.S. Open lead three nights in a row and didn't crumble.
Kaymer is a star in a worker bee's body. His caddie, Craig Connelly, has seen the range rat pound so many practice balls that Kaymer's hands bleed. He has a gentle soul encased by an iron will and all operated by a thoughtful, decisive mind.
To get this point, he had to do the rise-and-fall thing. There was the playoff victory against Bubba Watson at the PGA Championship, followed by a No. 1 world ranking, followed by a decision to retool his swing to include a draw. And then, semi-darkness.
Kaymer added the draw because he thought he needed it to win at Augusta National. But the swing alteration caused him to fall down a world rankings staircase, from No. 1 in 2011 to as low as No. 63 just this past April.
To the non-believers, he was a mess. To him, he was doing what was necessary. No true champion, he said, could depend on a swing that was incapable of versatility. He wanted to be the Swiss Army knife of golf.
And here he is, holding another trophy. The guy is beginning to own more silver than Tiffany.
"It shouldn't sound cocky or arrogant, but I knew it would come," he said of his success. "I knew I would play good golf again."
There will be those who will call his victory at Pinehurst machine-like. I suppose that makes sense, what with the Mercedes logo on his shirt.
And there will be those who will say his win had less drama than a third-grade school play, that it was boring and forgettable. It wasn't forgettable to anyone who saw him set a 36-hole U.S. Open record with 65-65. It wasn't forgettable to those who listened to post-round comments, which were a grocery bag full of humor, introspection and humility. It wasn't forgettable to those who chased him this week.
You could root for two-time heart transplant survivor Compton, and the young Fowler, and whomever else you liked on the Sunday list of contenders. But you can't root against Kaymer. By now, and at the very least, he should have earned your respect, if not your admiration.
"To win one major is already very nice in your career," Kaymer said. "But to win two, it means a lot more. Some friends, they called me a 'one-hit wonder' with the majors, obviously in a funny way. And now I can go back and show them this one."
Kaymer came to Pinehurst ranked No. 28 in the world. He'll leave here with his second significant win in as many months. He has to be on the short list of favorites at the Open Championship in July.
McIlroy has played well this year, but he was no real factor at the Masters or here. Bubba talked himself out of contending before the U.S. Open even began -- again. Phil Mickelson isn't speaking to his putter these days (he finished 7-over). Scott worked his way into a top-10 finish, but never challenged.
Meanwhile, we await word from Tiger's world headquarters in Jupiter, Florida, on when his surgically repaired back will allow him to return. So far, silence.
Until then, we are lucky enough to watch Act III of Kaymer's golf life. It goes like this:
Rise. Fall. Rise.