Friday, March 04, 2016

 Bernhard Langer at 58 still the hardest 

working man in pro golf
  Bernhard Langer works on his putting - the left hand just off his chest, in compliance with the anchoring ban - with coach Eric Kaplan before the Allianz Championship.
Bernhard Langer works on his putting - the left hand just off his chest, in compliance with the anchoring ban - with coach Eric Kaplan before the Allianz Championship. ( Tracy Wilcox )
BOCA RATON, Florida  — Liquid sunshine interrupted an otherwise workmanlike Monday afternoon at Broken Sound Club. It sent whatever few souls had arrived already to the site of the first full-field 2016 US PGA Tour Champions event scurrying for cover. Some ducked into the equipment trailer for a tune-up, and others made a beeline for the brisket at the buffet line.
For one reporter, the raindrops seemed to be the ideal time to speak with Bernhard Langer. Except there was the 25-time senior-circuit winner, a lone figure on the practice putting green, perfecting his craft.
“A little rain doesn’t stop him,” daughter Christina Langer said of her father, who at 58 remains arguably the hardest-working man in golf.
Everyone has a story of Langer’s tireless work ethic. Kenny Perry recalled how Langer won the 2014 Dick’s Sporting Goods Open in Endicott, N.Y., on a Sunday, took a red-eye to Seattle for the next event, the Boeing Classic, and was on the putting green early the next day. “The rest of us are in our hotel room, asleep,” Perry said. “He actually makes me mad. I tell him, ‘Go take a vacation. I’m tired of watching you practice.’ ”
It is this combination of preparation and mental fortitude that has made Langer, a World Golf Hall of Famer, the most dominant player on the Champions Tour since Hale Irwin. 
Langer has won the seasonlong money title seven times in eight years since turning 50, and the one time he failed, he was sidelined because of surgery on his left thumb
No one else has won more than three. If Fred Couples had produced such a run of consistency, we’d be deifying him. So how good has Langer been? Colin Montgomerie put it like this: “My next win, if I ever achieve it, will be the 50th of my career. Bernhard’s almost at 100. Now, I haven’t had a bad career. To double me? Hats off to the guy.”
It is all the more remarkable considering that on four separate occasions the putting yips threatened to short-circuit Langer’s career. He was 18 in 1976, a newcomer to the European Tour, when he began jerking putts uncontrollably. In September 1980, Langer was on the putting green at Sunningdale Golf Club in England when Seve Ballesteros approached and took hold of his center-shafted Bullseye putter, hit a few putts and informed him that it was too light and didn’t have enough loft. 
A young and impressionable Langer high-tailed it to the pro shop and purchased a heavier, flanged version with more loft for a meagre £5. 
 The next three weeks, Langer finished T-2, fifth and captured the Dunlop Masters. “That was my first official win, thanks to Seve,” Langer said.
Langer, putting cross-handed inside of 20 feet, won the 1985 Masters, but was dogged by such a bad stroke at times that Larry Mize said opponents wouldn’t concede a foot-long putt in match play. In 1989, his putter misbehaved to the point that he considered quitting the game. Langer is a man of faith, and he prayed to God for guidance. “He said to persevere, so I persevered for a few more weeks,” Langer said. “Now we’re 27 years later.”
His salvation came via his invention of the arm-lock grip, now referred to as the “Kuchar grip,” by anchoring the putter against his left forearm. Langer used this style to win the 1993 Masters. He switched to anchoring the long putter against his chest in 1997, and ranked no worse than second in putting average on the Champions Tour in five of the past six years. (He was first in 2015.) He turned a career disability into a strength.
“Without question, he was the best putter I’ve ever seen from 8 to 15 feet,” Jeff Sluman said.
The anchoring ban, which went into effect Jan. 1, brings fresh concern whether Langer’s reign of dominance will end. Ahead of the Allianz Championship, six putters in various lengths, models and brands leaned against his golf bag. He has tried it all, including sidesaddle. In his first two tournaments of 2016, he stuck with his long putter and an unanchored stroke, but he’s still fiddling with the Kuchar stroke and a conventional-length putter. He is giving himself an eight-week stretch – three early-season tournaments and five off weeks – to find a solution through a process of elimination. Re-learning any motor function takes 3,000-5,000 reps, said Eric Kaplan, Langer’s putting coach. For now, what Langer uses on the putting green today may not be what he uses tomorrow. The other lingering question is, can Langer keep winning money titles at his advanced age? Fifty-five used to be considered the wall on the senior circuit. Among the handful of players who have won in their 60s, Irwin, Jay Haas and Tom Watson have set a higher standard. Langer’s accomplishments are reaching a new level, but one can defy age for only so long.
Still, Montgomerie insisted it will be Langer’s putting stats that he’ll be checking, predicting it could make a shot or more per round difference in Langer’s score. “That’s three a tournament, four in a major,” Montgomerie said.
Let’s say it is three per round. If that’s the case, Langer still would have won the 2014 Senior British Open, which he won in a 13-shot rout. That’s another way to define Langer’s dominance.



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