Langer started to play using a conventional putting grip (right hand below the left). But even before he was 20, he contracted the yips, supposedly an old man's affliction. At the 1976 Hennessy Cup match, opponents would even concede putts inside a foot. 'They knew I would miss,' he says. 'Sheer willpower' is how Langer describes what it took to enable him to overcome that sustained attack, and in 1981 he topped the Order of Merit. But within a year, the yips had returned.
Langer's approach to the problem next time around was more pragmatic. He maintained the conventional grip for longer putts, but went cack-handed (left hand below right) for shorter ones. This worked, too. He led the European Tour putting statistics in 1984, when he was again top of the Order of Merit, and in 1985 he won the Masters, although even then there was evidence of both his uncertainty on the greens and his constant striving for perfection. He swapped putters after 36 holes. Within another 36 months, his putting stroke had again disintegrated. ON the last day of the 1988 Open at Lytham, he five-putted the 18th to complete a horrendous back nine of 46.
After briefly experimenting with a broom-handle putter, Langer hit upon this remedy at the Lancome Trophy in September 1988. He still frequently employs a conventional grip for longer putts, but for shorter ones he holds the putter and his thumb clutches his left forearm. That the method works is obvious: Langer headed the European putting stats again in 1990 and last year he won the Masters and finished fourth in the Order of Merit.
Why does it work? Technically, his is now a shoulder action. Wrist movement has been eliminated. Langer: 'my right hand cannot take over during the stroke, and my left wrist is prevented from breaking down because the shaft is held tight against my left forearm.' And there's the matter of self-belief. 'When you've had the yips, you want to keep the small muscles out of your stroke,' says David Leadbetter, now coaching Langer. 'This method takes Bernhard's hands totally our of the action, so he feels confident over the short putts.'
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