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Martin Kaymer learns the value of Olympic gold over green cash

Germany’s Martin Kaymer, right, got a taste of the Olympic spirit and he loves it. (Alastair Grant / Associated Press)
Germany’s Martin Kaymer, right, got a taste of the Olympic spirit and he loves it. (Alastair Grant / Associated Press)
By Doug Ferguson Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO – Martin Kaymer is tired of talking about the golfers who aren’t at the Olympics.

Even before the first shot is hit Thursday – the official return of Olympic golf for the first time in 112 years – Kaymer has spent enough time at other sports and with other athletes to remember what’s important.

And, for him, it’s not money.

The most inspiring moment was meeting Andreas Toba in the elevator at the Olympic Village after the German gymnast’s brave performance. Toba badly injured his knee during the floor exercise in team competition. Fighting through pain, he managed to go through the pommel horse routine and helped Germany advance to the finals.

“Compared to them, we are so weak in terms of our attitude sometimes,” Kaymer said Wednesday. “They do that sport with so much passion. They put all their heart in there. Some players, even from other sports, they don’t come here. And you think, ‘How can you not want to come here?’ To meet those people … that is why we all started our sport. When we were 12 or 15 years old, we went on the range. We didn’t do it for money. We went because it was our love, what we wanted to do.

“When you play a sport where you make a lot of money, there’s a good chance you lose a little bit of that passion.”

Kaymer did not single out any of the 21 golfers who withdrew from the Rio Games, nor did he suggest that every golfer is driven by money.

He just doesn’t understand why anyone would miss a moment like this.

And it made him realize there is more to sport than winning majors and cashing in by accepting appearance fees around the world. Above all, it made him realize “that I didn’t do anything wrong by coming here.”

He cited the overloaded schedule – three majors and a World Golf Championship in a seven-week span before he left for Rio – and the PGA Tour players who begin the FedEx Cup playoffs with the $35 million in bonus money right after the Olympics are over.

“At the end of the day, I think most athletes really do it for the money,” Kaymer said. “I’m not saying everybody does it, but a lot of the guys, they do things for money these days.”

Another meaningful moment for Kaymer was sitting down with Germany’s field hockey team the other day.

“They don’t make anything,” he said. “The pride they have in where they are from and what they do and what they can do here in these two weeks, it’s all they have for four years. And we don’t show any appreciation for those guys.”

Instead, so much of the conversation has been the top players sitting out golf’s return to the Olympics. Most of the absentees cited the Zika virus. Others mentioned schedules and their priorities, and there was underlying concern of security and safety.

Golf provides a comfortable lifestyle. Five players on the PGA Tour already have crossed the $5 million mark for the season going into the lucrative FedEx Cup playoffs. Kaymer knows he has it good. He happens to play a sport that gets more recognition than the athletes that have inspired him this week.

“But the actual work? The results? If you sit in a canoe or do rowing or jumping or whatever, they are the best in the world,” he said. “They don’t have the status that we have, but that doesn’t mean they are worse. The Olympic theme, that everyone is the same, I enjoy that.

“I enjoy so much to be with people who know why they’re here and why they do what they do, and they give it their all.”

Kaymer can only hope his peculiar habit of producing great moments in even-numbered years continues. He won the PGA Championship in 2010 for his first major. His par putt under enormous pressure gave Europe the decisive point in its Ryder Cup victory in 2012. He won the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in 2014.

He would love to leave Rio with a gold medal around his neck. And he doesn’t care who’s at Olympic Golf Course.

“It’s not easy to win,” he said. “The great thing about golf right now if from 60 players, probably 40 or 45 can win. It’s a little disrespectful that they talk more about the people who stay home.”

And if he doesn’t win a medal? That doesn’t change a thing.

“No matter what happens this week,” he said, “it’s the greatest week of my life.”

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