RYDER CUP: Kaymer’s attitude adjustment paid off in the end

Germany’s Martin Kaymer changed his attitude. For that he was rewarded Sunday with the honor of assuring the Ryder Cup would remain in Europe for two more years.

Kaymer hadn’t been playing well leading into this year’s Ryder Cup. In fact he skipped the last qualifying tournament for Team Europe even though he held the last automatic berth and was in danger of losing it.

“This year I haven’t done much. I’ve been through a few things’’ said Kaymer. “But I’m playing good now.’’

Still, Kaymer was the only player on either team to compete just once in the two days of team matches at Medinah. European captain Jose Maria Olazabal sent him out only in the afternoon four-balls on Friday. Later that day Kaymer and Olazabal had a long talk about the significance of the Ryder Cup.

It wasn’t that Kaymer didn’t know about the competition, which began in 1927. He earned 2 ½ point for Europe in the 2010 matches in Wales but, Kaymer admits, “My attitude wasn’t the right one.’’

Even though Kaymer was on the winning side on Friday, partnered with Justin Rose, Olazabal sat him on Saturday and didn’t put him off in singles until the 11th of the 12 matches. It was Kaymer, though, who provided the point that kept the Ryder Cup in Europe.

“Jose Maria came up to me at the 16th hole and said `We need your point,’’’ said Kaymer. “That didn’t really help. I was so nervous.’’

Kaymer was all square with Steve Stricker when Olazabal arrived, and he was able to follow his captain’s orders in part because Stricker was struggling.

On the 17th Kaymer rolled in a four-foot par putt after Stricker made bogey to go 1-up. That was a big putt, but the six-foot par-saver he made on the 18th was even bigger.

Kaymer put his tee shot in a fairway bunker on the finishing hole, but his second found the green inside of Stricker’s ball. Stricker missed badly on his first putt. So did Kaymer. Stricker connected on his par putt, and then Kaymer made the par-saver that clinched the point and set off a long and wild victory celebration by his teammates.

German golfers haven’t had much impact on the Ryder Cup over the years, and the biggest one was negative. Bernhard Langer missed a similar six-foot putt on the last hole of the most emotional of the biennial competitions, the 1991 staging at Kiawah Island, S.C., that has become known as “the War on the Shore.’’ That miss gave the U.S. the Cup. Langer also helped convince Kaymer of the significance of the event this week.

Kaymer owns a major title, the 2010 PGA Championship at Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits course. That was an emotional event, too, as Kaymer won in a playoff with Bubba Watson after Dustin Johnson, who would have also been in the playoff, was penalized for grounding his club in a bunker on the last hole.

Winning a major brings a career upgrade, and – Kaymer now believes – so does the Ryder Cup.

“But it’s a completely different level,’’ said Kaymer. “The major win was just for myself, but I can see the guys behind me. My brother was here, my father was here. Sergio (Garcia) ran onto the green. There was so much more behind me. Now I know how it really feels to win the Ryder Cup.’’