Bernhard Langer: why the old master shows no sign of losing his edge

Bernhard Langer is perfectly placed to speak about golden generations.

He was central to one, in an era when European golf commonly conquered all before them at Augusta National.

Between 1980 and 1994, there were nine European winners of the Masters. Langer prevailed twice in that spell, his first one 30 years ago. He was part of a five-man group, also including Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, Sandy Lyle and Seve Ballesteros who had no fears over crossing the Atlantic. José María Olazábal claimed two Green Jackets in the 1990s.

And yet, amazingly, Olazábal’s 1999 triumph was the last by a European player at Augusta. The blunt reality is that a much-heralded fresh breed have not so far returned the major tally that was once promised.

“I am a little surprised by that, actually, because in the 80s and 90s we were dominating the Masters. All of us, that big five, won here,” explains Langer.

“It is a surprise to me that nobody has won since, when you have had players like Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and a bunch of others who should have the game but didn’t do it.”

One explanation comes from the lack of a ripple effect. “Seve kept winning majors and I had beaten Seve on a number of occasions on the European Tour every year,” Langer adds. “So I knew that I could beat him and thought: ‘He is winning majors, I’m not. If he can, I can.’ That gave me the confidence that I could.”

Of the class of 2015, Langer’s German compatriot Martin Kaymer is worthy of attention. The pair played together at Augusta on Monday, with Kaymer looking to improve on a record which shows a best placing of 21st at the first major of the year.

“If you can win the US Open by eight, you should be able to win any other tournament if your game is on,” says Langer of Kaymer. “He is long enough, straight enough, is a good putter; Martin pretty much has the full package.”

Langer himself still has cause to be upbeat. He has missed just one Masters since 1982 but, more notably, continues to be competitive. The 57-year-old, who enjoys a highly successful time on the Challenge Tour, finished in a tie for eighth a year ago.

“If you win on a regular basis and you are used to being up on a leaderboard, you expect to be there,” Langer says. “It is no surprise and you can handle it fairly well.

“That has been the case for me the last six, seven years. I know it is going to be harder for me because some of the guys can outdrive me but it is not how far, it’s how many. A lot of it is putting and local knowledge.

“It is harder for me because I am hitting three or four iron into greens where others are hitting seven, eight, nine irons. They have an advantage but it is not all about distance. “You have to be precise, you have got to respect the course and put your second shot in the proper place. Obviously that is easier than it is with an eight iron than it is with a four iron but when we play very well, we can place our four iron pretty reasonably.”

Still, Langer’s continued competitiveness is worthy of great praise. It shows no sign of abating. “I still feel and have always felt like I can improve,” he insists. “People say: ‘You are over 50, how are you going to get better?’ Yes I can get better just by creating a better technique and knowing what to do in different circumstances.

“There are three things. I need to be healthy, first of all. You need some success and you need to enjoy it. If one of those three is missing, time to think about quitting.”

Langer remains an outspoken critic of the forthcoming ban on an anchored putting stroke, which will impact directly on him, from early 2016. He will wait until the end of this senior season, in early November, before trying out fresh putting methods; Matt Kuchar’s style is one which appeals to Langer in principle.

The decision may have been made to alter golf’s rules but it continues to grate. “It does. It makes no sense to me, sorry,” Langer says. “I think there are far greater issues in golf and I think it only happened because two guys won major championships with a long putter. They are exactly the two majors of the ruling bodies in golf; the R&A and USGA, Open Championship and US Open. If that hadn’t happened, the long putter would be no issue.

“I tried to voice my opinion but I think there were one or two people with their mind set on pushing this through. They were successful.

“It is very simple. If the long putter was such an advantage, why isn’t everybody using it? Why are only 10 to 14% of players using it? I guarantee you, every player on Tour would go to the long putter if they think they could win with it. Obviously they can’t and they don’t feel that way. Who is using the big-headed driver and graphite shafts, who is playing with hybrid clubs? Everyone, because it is an advantage.”

Mercedes-Benz is a global sponsor of the Masters tournament

Powered by article was written by Ewan Murray at Augusta National, for The Guardian on Wednesday 8th April 2015 12.51 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010