Q&A with European golf legend Bernhard Langer

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Q&A with European golf legend Bernhard Langer

Mercedes-Benz Ambassador Bernhard Langer is fit and raring to go

Q- As a previous winner of the Irish Open and as someone who has played golf in Ireland over many years – do you have a favourite memory of Ireland?

There are lots of great memories and bad memories! At the age of 19 I was leading the Irish Open at Portmarnock. I think it was the first time I had led a tournament on the European Tour and I think I had a two-shot lead with nine holes to play. I started thinking about what I was going to say at the prize giving ceremony when I accept the trophy, and what am I going to do with all the money I am going to make. I was thinking all the things you shouldn’t think about. Needless to say, I did not win the tournament, I did not have to give a speech and I did not make the money I expected to win. Those were lessons learned and you must never get ahead of yourself.

The Irish people are fantastic. They really know the game of golf, a lot like the Scots. They support us all tremendously and the Irish Open has always been one of my favourite tournaments because of the people and because of the great golf courses. I think I won three Irish Opens on three different golf courses.

(He did! 1984, Royal Dublin GC; 1987, Portmarnock GC; 1994, Mount Juliet CC)

Q- What would be your favourite course that you’ve played in Ireland?

There are way too many good courses and it is hard to compare an inland course with a links course, and Ireland has great links courses and great parkland courses.

Q- If the Ryder Cup gets to be played this year what do you think will be the biggest obstacle for Padraig Harrington to overcome?

First of all, Padraig is very intelligent. He is a smart guy and he has been around a while and he has played in a number of Ryder Cups. He has been a vice captain and he has played under a lot of different captains so he has seen what captains have done well and what they have not done well. I remember Padraig playing for me in 2004 in Detroit and I think he will do a great job. He has always been a team player. Padraig is not a prima donna or someone who puts himself first and I think he will do an amazing job for the team. There is no-one more important than the team. Padraig will not leave any stone unturned to do the best he can do and provide the players with what they need.

It is harder to win the Ryder Cup in America, there is no doubt. You are playing on foreign land and there will be more spectators supporting the American team and it will be a tough environment. Nevertheless, we will have a string team and they will have as much of a chance to win than the Americans, if not better.

Langer on lockdown

Q- Much of the world is in a lockdown. Please describe the situation in Boca Raton.

The restrictions have come in gradually. A week ago, the golf courses, beaches and parks were shut down. Social distancing is being encouraged and people are being asked to stay indoors, and we are being asked to only leave the house if need groceries or for a medical emergency. People are being asked to work from home and not to congregate in large groups.

Q- Are you and your family all well? 

So far we are all healthy, no-one has the virus and we have one bit of exciting news as our daughter Jackie is in hospital now to give birth to our first grandchild, and the berth is due hopefully today (and so it proved, congrats Bernhard!). So I am on call but unfortunately we cannot go to the hospital as only her husband is allowed to be there with her but we are excited to become grandparents.

Q- With travel and tournaments being shut down, what has been keeping you busy?

I have been trying to do the things I normally don’t have time to do like clean out the garage. I am always tidying bits and pieces in there but a total overhaul would be a good thing! The problem is we have a large garage!

I have a list of immediate jobs and a list of not-so-urgent jobs and right now I am tackling the not-so-urgent items now that I have some time, but I try to get out of the house when I can. We are very fortunate because we have gorgeous weather here right here, just brilliant over the past few weeks, so I get out and ride my bike or go for walks. I can do some exercises in the pool and I try to keep moving because I have been sitting around more than I usual, as we are obviously not playing golf.

I do my Bible studies too and before this call I was on a conference call with our Champions Tour Fellowship. We have a chaplain and there were about 15 of us doing a Bible study online. We also watch our local church service online as we can’t gather in church. Life is different but you have go to be creative and make the best of it.

Q- When was the last time you swing a golf club?

I do swing a little bit indoors. I have a heavy club – a seven iron with lead down the shaft and it is very heavy and I swing that indoors. I also have a little putting green in our back yard and I can chip around that too. For the first few days at home I did not do much but now I am itching to do something. (I am contemplating driving over to stay with a friend in Naples, where the golf courses are still open. The restrictions vary in the different regions within Florida.)

The last time I played was with my son a week ago before they closed our golf course. I have not played competitive golf in three weeks but so far that is not unusual. We have a break from the middle of November to until the middle of January each year when we don’t play competitive golf for two months, although I play in the Father-Son tournament.

I have had breaks of several weeks without competitive golf before and when I go skiing, I might not touch a golf club for a week or 10 days. So far this does not feel unusual in terms of playing golf but if it goes on for another month or two then it will be very unusual.

 Langer on the Masters

Q- Do you hope the Masters will be rescheduled for the Fall and if so do you expect to play?

Yes, I expect the Masters to be played at the end of the year; October, November or maybe even December, depending on how this thing goes, and yes, if they play the Masters I will be there.

Q- Have you played Augusta National in the fall before? 

Never. Other than at the Masters in April, I have played the course in January and February but never in the fall. I hear the conditions will be very similar to April.

Q- Just not so many flowers in bloom.

Well, hopefully I will keep my golf ball out of the flowers anyway…

Langer on his season so far

Q- So far in 2020 you have a win and 3 top-10s in 5 events. Congratulations on yet another strong start to a season. From a golf perspective you must be frustrated with the enforced break?

Yes, a little bit, but there are far more important things in life than playing golf, even though golf is my profession.

I was thrilled with my start to the season. I actually had a chance to win the first four tournaments. I ended up winning one and finishing in the top six in the other three. My last tournament was not so good in terms of my result but I am excited about where my game was and hopefully I won’t be too rusty when we go back out.

Q- How have you felt in terms of health, fitness and conditioning so far in 2020?

Results can be misleading and you know the saying, “Beware the injured golfer”. I generally I am feeling fairly good. I have a great doctor in Germany who gives me great advice. I have little knee and shoulder issues but nothing unusual. When you have been a professional golfer for 45 years there will be signs of things wearing out a little bit, but again, I am using this time to get healthy and strong, stay in shape and maybe lose a little bit of weight, so when we do get out there I will be ready to go.

Q- Do you have Hale Irwin’s win record in your sights (or only when you get asked about it)? Have you spoken to him about it?

Yes. I have thought about it. I don’t contemplate it too much because my goal is to get better and improve my game and I know that if I can do that and play close to my best then I can win tournaments and I can win majors and reach 45 Champions Tour wins, but I don’t focus on that. My focus is just to be the best Bernhard Langer I can be. But I do get reminded about the record every time I play. In am just very fortunate and blessed to be in the position to have a chance to reach or surpass Hale’s record.

Hale and I have spoken about it several times, even a few years ago. To be frank for a long time I did not think it would be possible for anyone to reach the record. It is just ridiculous. But as time has gone on, I have lost a bunch of play-offs over the past two or three, and had they finished in my favour I could have already passed Hale’s record. I will keep trying.

Langer on how he’s keeping fit

Q- With the enforced break, what have you been doing for exercise and staying active?

It is a little bit harder now because I live on a golf course and we have a wonderful fitness centre about 300 yards from my home, which I usually use every day when I am at home, but they have had to close that down for social distancing, so I have had to be a little creative. I have a treadmill and exercise bike in my fitness room in the house and some weights and bands and ropes and the heavy club. I have mats to stretch on and do body-weight exercises and I have the pool outside. I have actually been enjoying the pool lately because it gets me outside in the sun and I am learning to do some workouts in the pool which is actually better for my knees and my shoulders.

You need to be creative and use what you have and everyone has that opportunity. You can do sit-ups and push-ups and pull-ups and benching just using your body weight. You don’t need a lot of other stuff.

I cycled yesterday for an hour and I enjoyed that. It was beautiful and good exercise.

Langer on the Ryder Cup

Q- Do you think the Ryder Cup should be postponed? 

It all depends on what is going on and no-one really knows how long this thing will take. We can only see and learn from what happened in China and Italy and South Korea, so it all depends if they can get this virus under control.

We are hoping to be back playing in June or July I would think, maybe even in May but I really don’t know more than anyone else. Hopefully by September most things will be somewhat back to normal. If not the PGA of America and the European Tour will have to get together to decide whether to move the date.

I personally love the Ryder Cup. It is the most compelling team competition in team golf. There is so much emotion and people love it, even those in countries that are not involved. It is a unique competition.

Q- What have you made of it all in terms of how the PGA Tour and events have handled everything?

They have done a great job. They have talked to the players, the sponsors, the organisers and the volunteers, and they have listened to the health authorities and to the government and the focus is to stay at home right now so they can get some kind of control over this virus. The better we do at social distancing, the sooner this will be under control.

Q- Have you played Whistling Straits? If so, might it be harder for the Americans to set-up the course for their long driving?

Yes, I played in the PGA Championship there. I don’t know if the Americans are that much longer than the Europeans. It depends who makes both teams. They can set-up any golf course how they want and if they want to set it up for the bombers they can make the fairways narrow up to 300 yards from the tee and then make them wide to give the longest hitters an advantage. You can do that on pretty much any golf course. And you can do vice versa as well, to take the driver out of the hands of the longest drivers.

It is up to the home captain and what he thinks is better for his team but the bottom line is that these are some of the best players in the world and they ought to cope with any circumstances and any set-up. I don’t buy it if people say a golf course was set-up against them. World class golfers can play well at the Masters, the British Open and the U.S. Open and anywhere else around the world under any circumstances and that is how I see it.

 Langer on his golf collection

Q- How many drivers and putters do you have at home?

I don’t know, I have never counted them. I have lots but I give away lots. I receive a lot of requests for drivers and putters from charity auctions so I give a lot away.

I still have quite a few in the garage, including a few persimmon drivers that will probably never see the light of day again. I need to decide whether to put them up on a wall or perhaps by a fireplace.

Q- Do those persimmon clubs look intimidating to you or is that just to us amateurs?

They certainly do look intimidating. It is amazing what we used to play with. They were shorter, they had a steel shaft and the whipping on the bottom, they were heavy and small. All these characteristics were detrimental to playing well, in a sense! You wonder how we played so well with these things.

I have a couple of very special clubs. I might have been the last golfer to win a tournament with a persimmon driver, at the 1993 Masters. I was using a driver made by Texas Wood Brothers, which I used for a number of years, but I was giving up yardage to my opponents. They were all out-driving me with metal drivers but I found I just couldn’t control the steel drivers at first so I was stuck with persimmon.

Anyway, about a year later Texas Wood Brothers went out of business because no-one was buying persimmon drivers anymore and the owner sent me the exact model that I had been playing, but hand-carved around the back of the clubhead was a picture of Jesus and the Last Supper with the 12 Disciples. It is a beautiful work of art and there is only one in the world and I often look at it. It is very special and it obviously is more meaningful to me as a Christian.

The people at Texas Wood Brothers were thrilled that I won the Masters with their driver. I told them they did not need to give me anything – I was thrilled their driver worked so well for me – but they insisted and sure enough, this driver arrived in the mail and I was flabbergasted.

I have another driver that Seve used to win the German Open in Frankfurt, that was given to me by a friend of mine and that has a special place in my office.

 Langer’s secret to longevity

Q- Other than fitness, any other secrets to your longevity?

There is really not one secret. There are a lot of things that need to come together. You need to be healthy to be able to swing the club how you want to swing it, you have to be determined and you have to practice every aspect of the game. You need good technique, you need to withstand the pressure we play under, you need to be able to play shots on all the uneven lies, and you need to chip and out well, and control your bunker shots. You also need to control your emotions and there is all sorts of stuff that contributes to being successful.

I have been blessed with a good coach in Willy Hoffman and a good manager in my brother Erwin, and good caddies, and if the people around me have treated me well and tried their best then I have always been loyal to them. That has worked well for me and I am very blessed and fortunate to have had this long career so far. When I started out, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

 

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