U.S. OpenJune 16, 2015

Martin Kaymer gave an incredibly eloquent monologue on the difference between winning and losing

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. -- When it comes to interesting players in the world of professional golf, Martin Kaymer is almost criminally underrated. He's the closest thing the game has to a philosopher, and while most players speak in short, clipped sentences rife with cliches, he gives actual thought to a question and often goes off on a lengthy discourse.

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That was the case Tuesday at his U.S. Open pre-tournament press conference at Chambers Bay, where he held court on his life and career since winning last year's championship at Pinehurst. Kaymer is always compelling, but things took a turn for the fascinating when he was asked which players he thought could win this weekend. After naming Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy, he began to talk about what makes someone a "winner":

"All those guys, they're not afraid to win . . . Some other players, they are feeling uncomfortable in situations where they are about to win a golf tournament. It's not that easy to win, but for them it's even tougher."

This inspired a follow-up, and Kaymer went deeper on the differences between the golfers who only think they want to win, and those who actually do:

But I think some players they just have it naturally, that they want to win. For example, Mickelson, I can imagine if he's up there in contention, he doesn't really care if he finishes second or 15th or 18th, or wherever, he wants to win. So many players, I notice they still play for the money, for World Ranking points. So little players actually play for the win.

That was very interesting for me the last two or three years when I played tournaments, whether in America or Europe, but just seeing the players. And that gives you more confidence in yourself. Because you're not there to finish second or 10th. You want to win. And knowing that they might don't want to win, so you see how they play the last few holes. They are not that aggressive anymore or they leave their putts short or you see it in their body language. And you kind of like feed from it.

This is a concept that is so rarely spoken about in professional circles -- the notion that certain players back down at the end, and that players like Kaymer can read that weakness in them, and take strength even while the opponent is weakening. I asked a follow-up on my own, about whether a player was born with that ability or if he can learn it along the way, and that's when Kaymer really took off into the philosophical stratosphere. I know I'm asking you to read a big block of text here, but this is a question I've asked many players over the last three years, and this is the best answer I've ever heard:

Well, if you're born -- that's a tough one. I think after a while, when you keep playing tournaments, when you win tournaments, you create and you learn a lot about yourself. You notice for yourself that not many people or I, as well, don't really talk about it because you don't really -- sometimes you don't know exactly what that feeling is.

If you call it killer instinct, if you call it a winning instinct or wanting to win, whatever it is, I think you create it over the years, over the tournaments that you play and over your wins. As long as you have time to reflect on them, and again, what I said earlier, to reflect on how you won and why you won those tournaments, think about your feelings, think about how did I feel in certain situations . . .

It's only up to yourself, so how does the body feel? Do you want to actually win? Do you really want to win that trophy? Or is it like, okay, I'm not sure. You have to be very honest with yourself . . . And that is very interesting to see how few players really, really want to win. You can tell yourself, oh, yeah, of course I want to win. They sit here and think, yeah, I want to win, but they didn't. It's the honesty to yourself. And I had to face it this year in Abu Dhabi. There was a very interesting afternoon for me on Sunday, when I pretty much screw up the whole tournament.

But then you have to ask yourself the right questions. And at the end of the day did you really want to win the tournament or not? You're the only one who can answer that . . . Because you are here to win golf tournaments and not only for the money or for all those things. It's a very fine line. But, again for us players, it's very -- I think it's nice to see sometimes how [few] want to win, because it gives you more freedom, because you want to win, you're there, I guess for the right reason.

Brilliant, and enlightening -- what we believe intuitively seems to be true, which is that there are only a handful of players you'd call "true winners," and legions of very talented pros who can't quite muster the necessary amount of what Kaymer called "bravery."

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