By Matthew Rudy
Martin Kaymer's 28-foot par-saving putt on the island 17th Sunday night was the big, obvious choice for "most important" shot of the day, because it let him keep his one-shot lead over Jim Furyk with the treacherous 18th left to play. But it was what Kaymer was able to do Thursday -- when he tied the course record with a 63 -- and off the tee on the last hole Sunday with water threatening down the entire left side of the hole that proved he's back to the form that made him world No. 1 in 2011.
Kaymer won the 2010 PGA and reached the top of the golf world with an intuitive, fade-only style. He decided to tear that swing down and build one that let him move the ball both ways. But after three years of frustration, Kaymer was still being overwhelmed by technical thoughts when he played. He was looking for a way to clear his head and play free, the way he he had at the beginning of the decade. A simple tennis ball swing aid helped him do that. The ball hangs from his neck on elastic, and he holds it between his wrists while he makes practice swings.
"When the average amateur thinks about swing aids, they usually think of something that is going to make them get too technical," says Jorge Parada, a master instructor at TPC Sawgrass who works with PGA Tour players Jonas Blixt and David Lingmerth and LPGA player Anna Nordqvist. "With Martin, he gets the opposite effect. The drill with the ball gives him the chance to have some structured practice and achieve what he's trying to accomplish--to keep the relationship between his arms consistent—but do it in a way that lets him feel it instead of think about it. He feels the pressure to the top of the swing, then all he has to do is let it go."
At Sawgrass, Kaymer was able to go out and play with a swing feel instead of a menu of swing thoughts. "He's back to being more reactive," says Parada. "His swing is a bit longer and more relaxed, and he's going out and playing like an athlete." In the deep twilight on 18 tee, Kaymer carved a perfect fade off the edge of the water to secure his tournament-winning par.
Kaymer's instructor rigged up the simple aid with a piece of elastic and a tennis ball, and the drill is a great one for any player to try. "A lot of players start at address with the space between the elbows at about five or six inches apart, but when they get to the top of the backswing the right elbow flies up and that space becomes 12 or 15 inches," says Parada. "To get down to the ball in a reasonable position to hit it, that gap has to reduce back to what it was, and that's a hard thing to do consistently. The ball drill helps you feel one thing instead of thinking about the geometry of elbow position, swing plane or any or any other part of the physical motion."