Two German champions in field at Players

May 6, 2015, 2:30 PM
Rory McIlroy chips a shot to the green on the first hole during a practice round for The Players Ch...
Rory McIlroy chips a shot to the green on the first hole during a practice round for The Players Championship golf tournament, Wednesday, May 6, 2015, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
(AP Photo/John Raoux)

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Martin Kaymer was nervous the first time he met Bernhard Langer, the two-time Masters champion and Germany’s greatest golfer. That was natural. Kaymer was a teenager playing the BMW International Open and saw Langer on the range.

It was a practice round at the Masters that he won’t forget.

Kaymer was playing Augusta National for the first time in 2008 when Langer called and arranged for a practice round.

“So Monday morning, we’re standing on the 10th tee, and I was already nervous playing with Bernhard, my first round in Augusta playing with him,” Kaymer said. “And then Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player showed up. So then, standing there playing my very first nine holes in Augusta with legends. And me being 23 years old, I was more nervous playing that than Thursday morning.”

Kaymer and Langer held a joint press conference as winners of The Players Championship — Kaymer won the regular version last year, while Langer qualified by winning the Senior Players Championship.

Langer has been more of a mentor than a golfing idol to Kaymer, who already has won two majors, The Players and a World Golf Championship. What appeals to Kaymer the most about Langer is the way he listens and gives thoughtful advice.

“One of the most valuable things that you can give to a person is your time,” Kaymer said. “It’s not so shallow the conversations that we have. The things Bernhard says I believe, because he’s talking about experience. … I know how difficult it is to give time to people in our job, but there was always time for me.”

___

PERFECT PITCH: Jordan Spieth was in the middle of his press conference when his cellphone began to ring.

“Whoops,” he said, reaching into his pocket to turn it off.

Only 21, the Masters champion already has a knack for delivering the perfect corporate pitch.

“AT&T service is too good,” Spieth said as the room erupted in laughter. Spieth signed a long-term endorsement deal with AT&T last year.

___

TROPHY CASE: Rory McIlroy has an impressive collection of trophies for a guy who just turned 26 on Monday.

A claret jug. The U.S. Open trophy. A pair of Wanamaker trophies from the PGA Championship. A pair of World Golf Championship trophies. In all, he has amassed 16 titles from around the world.

Now if he can just find them.

The trophies aren’t lost. He just keeps them in a faraway place at his home.

“None of them would be very visible,” McIlroy said. “You would have to tell someone where they were. I don’t really like putting anything really on display.”

He made it sound as though the trophies were still packed away in boxes. Close. But not quite.

“They’re upstairs in like the back sort of corner,” he said. “It’s above the office that I’ve never used. But yeah, you would have to go in … you would have to tell people where it is. It’s in a little nook, like a little loft-type thing.”

One thing was clear. It’s not on a mantle.

___

PLAYERS ROOKIES: In a Wednesday tradition, the players at The Players Championship for the first time gathered on the lawn next to the clubhouse to receive a pin and be available for interviews. It’s hard to call Brooks Koepka a rookie. He won the Phoenix Open and is No. 20 in the world. Robert Streb, Nick Taylor, Ben Martin also have won PGA Tour events this year, all in the fall portion of the schedule.

Most surprising of all was Ryo Ishikawa.

For one thing, he was sitting in a chair without a large contingent of Japanese media talking to him. For another, the Japanese star already has played 19 majors.

He was a special temporary member twice, though that didn’t get him into The Players. And then he failed to keep his PGA Tour card and earned it back at the Web.com Tour Finals, but that doesn’t get to Sawgrass.

That’s not to say Ishikawa is a newcomer to Sawgrass.

“I was first alternate last year,” he said. “Nobody withdrew. I guess nobody wants to miss this tournament.”

___

GOLF GROWTH: According to top executives from leading golf organizations, the death of golf has been grossly overstated.

Steve Mona from the World Golf Foundation described the industry as “stable” and the future “encouraging.”

Among the numbers he cited from a recent survey was 24.7 million who played golf in 2014, making it the fourth straight year participation has remained steady. Two million people took up golf last year, the highest number since 2002.

Mona also said more golf courses closed than opened for the ninth straight year, which he described as “market correction that frankly needs to take place.” He said there now are 15,372 courses in America, with 75 percent of them open for public play.

More than numbers, five major organizations said they were collaborating on programs to get more people involved — the PGA Tour, USGA, PGA of America, LPGA Tour and Augusta National. They had some 20 programs and whittled it down to five on which to concentrate:

— LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, which introduces golf to girls up to 14. It has grown from 4,500 girls in 2010 to an estimated 50,000 girls in 2015.

— Get Golf Ready, the PGA of America program that offers five lessons for $99. In its six years, it has attracted 358,000 people.

— Drive, Chip and Putt, the junior skills competition across the country in which the finalists compete at Augusta National the Sunday before the Masters.

— PGA Junior League Golf, for boys and girls ages 7 through 13 who compete in teams. It has grown from 1,500 kids in 2012 to 17,500 kids last year.

— The First Tee, which began in 1997 and has enrolled more than 10 million young people.

___

DIVOTS: Rory McIlroy confirmed that he will play the Frys.com Open at Silverado in October, the first event of the 2015-16 PGA Tour season. Tiger Woods also is expected to play as part of an agreement for playing in an exhibition in Turkey. … How times have changed in one year. Tiger Woods was No. 1 in the world at this time a year ago, while Rory McIlroy was No. 11. McIlroy now is No. 1 while Woods is at No. 125. … Rory McIlroy said if he could have one part of Jordan Spieth’s game it would be his putting. Spieth said if he could have one part of McIlroy’s game it would be his length off the tee.

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Two German champions in field at Players