Blog 341, 4/11/16 - What Planet are you from Bernhard?

langer 2016 masters
Relentless. 58-year-old Bernhard Langer appears not to know when to call it a day.
The plan was to write something about the significance of yesterday’s battle between Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy - the first time the incredibly talented pair had played together at the sharpish end of a tournament. Despite an up, down, and all-around 73 that included a three-birdie/one bogey/two double-bogey/three par back nine, the young American managed to hold on to his lead, while the Northern Irishman pretty much shot himself out of it, struggling to a 77 during which he said he felt like he was ‘playing upstream’.
How big a blow mentally could this be for McIlroy? When he capitulated at Augusta in the final round in 2011, it was all about him. He shot a back-nine 43 all by himself, and no one paid much attention to who he was paired with (Angel Cabrera). And anyway, McIlroy stormed back from that disaster winning the US Open by eight shots just a couple of months later. It will be very interesting though to see what effect his ‘defeat’ to Spieth in this year’s third round has on his psyche. The duo make up two-thirds of what many fans and media regard as this generation’s Big Three (Jason Day the third Musketeer). For one to beat another so handily on so big a stage might seriously impact the confidence of he who came second. Indeed, McIlroy admitted to wondering how on earth Spieth could be two-under par for the day as they played the 15th as he didn’t think the world number two was striking the ball nearly well enough to be scoring that well. “It's his most impressive asset,” McIlroy said. “And as much as it could be annoying to his competitors, it's very, very impressive.''
That’s got to be profoundly frustrating for McIlroy. Spieth, it seems, can show up with B-/C+ ball-striking and still shoot under-par (the three-over finish notwithstanding) thanks to his A+ short game and putting. McIlroy though doesn’t have a similarly rock-solid short-game to fall back on if his usually peerless ball-striking isn’t quite firing.
Who knows, with less pressure on him today and some familiar final-round pins (this is his eighth Masters and seventh final round, so he should know his way round Augusta on a Sunday by now), McIlroy could shoot the 64/65 he may need to capture his first green jacket.

But instead of writing about Spieth and McIlroy (er, seems I just did), the story that interests me more right now (fascinating Masters storylines are fascinating for a short time then get surpassed by new fascinating storylines) concerns Bernhard Langer who, at 58, will be trying to become the oldest player to win a major by ten years – Julius Boros was a just a baby when he won the 1968 PGA Championship, aged 48. Langer is currently one of only four players under par after 54 holes, and is just two shots off Spieth’s lead going into the final round.
The German says age is just a number. He’s right, but in his case it’s rather a high one - for a golfer looking to win the Masters anyway. The oldest winner of the event is of course Jack Nicklaus, who won his sixth title, at age 46, in 1986. Langer put the jacket on Nicklaus that year because he was the defending champion having shot 68-68 on the weekend in ’85 to win by two. Tied for second were Seve Ballesteros, Ray Floyd, and Curtis Strange who had begun the tournament with an 80. Langer’s second win came in 1993 when he beat Chip Beck by four. He used a persimmon driver and was, in fact, the last man to win a major using a wooden driver.

langer persimmon
Langer wielding a persimmon diver in 1993.
Yes, Bernhard Langer used a wooden driver to win his two major championships!!!
Here are a few more startling facts about Langer’s position near the top of the leaderboard.
- He turned professional in 1972, at the age of 15.
- His first professional win was the 1974 German national championship.
- His first official European Tour event was the 1974 Swiss Open where he missed the cut. 1963 Open Championship winner Bob Charles won the tournament and the €5,999 first prize. Tony Jacklin was second.
- His first European Tour win was the 1980 Dunlop Masters (now the British Masters). Nick Faldo was third, Sandy Lyle fifth, Greg Norman and Lee Trevino tied for seventh, and Hubert Green tied tenth.
- Despite his considerable success, Langer is perhaps best-known for a putt he missed – the six-footer to tie the Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island in 1991 - nearly two years before Jordan Spieth was born.
- Spieth was nine months old when Langer won his second Masters.

I first watched Langer in person at the 1985 Open Championship at Royal St George’s, then again at the Whyte and Mackay PGA Championship (now the BMW PGA Championship) at Wentworth in 1987. He was using his first anti-yip putting grip which obviously worked beautifully that week, as he beat Ballesteros by four to win his first British PGA championship.
I also remember well watching him on an otherwise empty range at St. Leon-Rot GC in Germany, in 1999. He was firing 1-irons into a headwind, every shot flying on the same line and trajectory as the last. It was impressive.
Bernhard Langer is still very impressive today. A third green jacket probably wouldn’t bring grown men to tears of joy like a sixth Claret Jug for 59-year-old Tom Watson might have done (Watson lost to Stewart Cink in a playoff at the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry). And who knows how much emotion you’d see from the enduring, and naturally stoic, German himself?
If he does pull it off though, there will be plenty of middle(ish)-aged golf fans, from Europe especially, reminiscing about a young German lad showing up in the mid-70s with a natty moustache and odd-looking putting grip, and who took on Ballesteros, Faldo, Lyle, Woosnam, and Norman…and won, often.
Langer will need to be at his methodical, meticulous, thorough (and yes, slow) best to win today. It’s highly unlikely he can beat a fellow two-time major champion 36 years his junior. But it’s going to be great watching him try.




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