By Tony Jimenez
LONDON (Reuters) - Martin Kaymer had just seized his first victory in a major and was riding high at number one in the world rankings but a fourth successive missed cut at the U.S. Masters prompted him to completely revamp his game.
It was back in 2011, eight months after landing the U.S. PGA Championship title, that the young German decided he could no longer tolerate the fact he was unable to shape his golf ball from right to left.
"I could only play one shot and that was the fade," European Ryder Cup hero Kaymer told Reuters in a telephone interview ahead of next week's Masters.
"It was always a safe shot but unfortunately it makes the golf course at Augusta very difficult and a little bit longer. There were certain holes where I had a disadvantage.
"I can remember in 2011 I missed the cut for the fourth time in a row. I was sitting in the car with my coach (Gunter Kessler) and I was quite sad about my performances there," Kaymer added.
"At that stage I was number one in the world and I wasn't able to hit a draw. That was something I was quite upset about."
Kessler provided support and encouragement and together the pair set about working on the hook shot that is so valuable to any top golfer who has designs on sporting the coveted Masters Green Jacket.
"I talked to my coach and he said: 'No problem we can change'," said Kaymer, a golf brand ambassador for Mercedes-Benz who are a global sponsor of the Masters. "'It will take some time but I agree that if you want to become a complete player we need to do something'."
Kaymer added: "That was the goal and that is what we did. At the end of the day I want to be happy and I want to develop as a golfer."
To paraphrase Neil Armstrong, the first man to step foot on the moon, it was a small but hugely significant step for Kaymer.
The German, who will turn 30 in December, saw his labors bear fruit in 2012 when he made his first Masters cut before going on to finish tied 44th.
Kaymer repeated the feat a year later, occupying a share of 35th place at the end of the opening major championship of the season.
"Now I don't have any problems playing a draw," said the player who holed a nerve-tingling six-foot putt in Illinois in 2012 to ensure the Ryder Cup remained in European hands. "At least I'm able to hit it.
"Obviously it's not my natural shot and I have to work a little bit more but that's okay because I know I can hit that shot and do it under pressure too.
"That was important to me. I wasn't able to do that in the past and that's why I look forward to playing at Augusta now," Kaymer explained.
"It's not just for Augusta either, it's nice to be able to hit any shot on any golf course because it means you are prepared for any situation."
The swing change has come at a price, though, with Kaymer plunging down the rankings to number 60 and searching for his first win since the 2012 Nedbank Challenge in Sun City, South Africa.
"Of course I'm not happy about my ranking," he said, "although I kind of expected that I wouldn't stay world number one.
"For me it was okay to drop down after making those changes but I can understand some of my fans are a little disappointed because they want to see me playing well.
"Now I just need to play more tournaments to get back up the rankings," said Kaymer, a 10-times winner on the European Tour. "I am playing a lot over the next few weeks so it's a really exciting time.
"I'm really happy with the way things are developing and it's nice to want to move up again."
(Editing by Toby Davis)