Golf: My time in the sand with Bernhard

Richard Edmondson came under the tutorage of the German master and found him the perfect friend to have when buried in a bunker
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The Independent Online
Your backswing is too steep," Bernhard Langer said just after I had climbed into the bunker with him. "Now, you're rather shallow." It's funny how some people can read you seconds after an initial meeting.

Bernhard does golf days with duffers because a watch company pays him a lot of money to do so. Thus, as the rivers Colne and Misbourne were chuckling away in the background, a group of men gathered in front of an 18th Century Grade II mansion that is the clubhouse of the Buckinghamshire Golf Club and one by one plopped into a sandpit.

I kept to myself the fact that I'd already been round the Buckinghamshire, and had plenty of course knowledge to bring into play. The club literature claims rather loftily that the course was built on a site studded with 5,000 mature trees. I am, unhappily, able to verify this statistic.

This exercise was billed as a golf clinic, but as the sand started to relocate from the bunker on to the practice green it became clear these swings were in need of an intensive care unit. Bernhard nevertheless seemed in good spirits after what had been a rather mixed day. When the highest earner in the history of the European tour got home and plonked his clubs in the porch, it is unlikely the cat had to dive for cover. He was able to tell Mrs Langer that even though it had been a relative stinker at the office and he had lost a match he had been expected to win (in the Andersen Consulting World Championship) he still had a cheque for $20,000 (pounds 12,500) in his back pocket.

Men other than Darren Clarke, his matchplay conqueror, were now testing the patience. Galleries always come with a resident clever dick, and our incumbent on this occasion was a bloke who wanted to know everything about Bernhard down to the flavour of his shower gel. "What do you do if you're plugged right in the face of a bunker?" he asked. Bernhard shrugged his shoulders and tried to smile while trying not to say "don't put it in there in the first place".

Langer is too polite to probably even think that, and there was a practised charm about his show. "I wish I'd done that earlier," he said as one of his chips disappeared.

Bernhard is an ideal man for clinics because, though he is a committed Christian, he is one of the few golfers who does not consider he is already at the right hand of God simply because the ball he hits with a stick keeps going down a hole.

I expected a mower to be at greenside, but there was one I did not anticipate, Patrick, the actor, collecting tips. I seem to remember him being beastly to Black Beauty once, and Mother Nature is beginning to get her own back as his navel sets off in search of his knees. Students of cause and effect would have had their interest awoken by the flat liquid lingering in his pint pot.

My meeting with the great Bernhard had been organised by a superior timepiece company who seemed rather keen that I should use their name at least as many times as Langer's. Have no fear, I said, journalistic wiles will be employed to subliminally slip in your brand name when the reader is least expecting it. Omega reported that interest in their timepieces went up 140 per cent by the simple expedient of "placing" their product on the wrist of Pierce Brosnan in the film Goldeneye.

The Swiss firm's marketing strategy is not a complex one. They give famous people a watch and tell others to buy one. The message seems to be that you can drive a car like Michael Schumacher or look like Cindy Crawford if you follow their lead and wear Omega. Disappointed subscribers may find instead they drive like the model and look like the German.

Bernhard taught me to open the clubface up to an absurd angle that suggests you are not going to hit the ball at all. Miraculously it worked (okay, it worked once) and the ball splashed out. However, an unfortunate side effect of this technique is that it makes its striker look as if he has an unsightly bald spot on the top of his head.

Bernhard emptied his bucket swiftly, which meant that those present can claim to be that rare species who have seen him hit 20 shots within five minutes. On the course, Bernhard is embarrassingly slow even by pallbearer standards.

But now he made us glad to be alive as he dutifully shook our hands and said what a pleasure it had been. "I sure straightened him out, didn't I?" he said playfully as a duffer duffed one. "I bet you wish you'd never met me." Not so Bernhard, not so.