Langer is steadfast in his slow accumulation

Ken Jones takes a considered look at the German's painstaking progress
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The Independent Online
One of the privileges that come with being good enough to earn a handsome living from golf is that you get work in some marvellous locations.

On a brilliant October day, Wentworth was a good example; dappled sunshine, the emerging tints of autumn, luscious fairways, the greens soft and holding.

Probably, this went unobserved by the golfers who have more on their minds than the flora. They seldom think to pause and smell the roses unless they are in their own gardens.

Golf at this level is a pre-occupation. It is about ironing out kinks in the swing and the ultimate horror, a flawed putting stroke. The worst things they see are a downhill putt and a plugged ball but it becomes a habit to complain about the greens, the rough, pin placings. Famously, when asked for his thoughts about an international conflict, one champion spoke absentmindedly about the most difficult par three he had ever come across.

There are so many tournaments now that golfers may not always be sure where they are or what day it is and whether their legs will last out much longer. "What with Ryder Cup and everything I think the last three weeks have been the toughest of my career," Bernhard Langer said after defeating Nick Price one up to win a place against the defending champion, Ernie Els, in today's semi-finals of the Toyota World Match Play Championship.

It is a damned sight harder working underground or on an oil rig but that is not a thought to which professional golfers give much if any consideration. Langer, for example, was amazed to discover that Sam Torrance had played in every tournament 10 years consecutively. "That would finish me off," he said. "I had a short break in the summer but there were things to do and I wasn't able to get into the gym and work on my fitness." The things Langer meant are those that enable any number of golfers to raise their earnings into multiples of seven figures.

In defeating Price, whose putting was wayward, Langer emphasised once again the importance he places on Teutonic thoroughness. He worries, he seldom looks happy but he never hurries. When watching Langer play the galleries are required to be patient. Where most players take one practice swing he takes two and maybe another for good measure. Pained by Langer's pedestrian progress in one match of the Ryder Cup a cynic was moved to observe that if golf is ever played at night he will be held responsible.

This must not detract from the quality of Langer's play after coming back from two down to be all square for the afternoon session. Winning the last two holes in the morning, he immediately went one up after lunch and although it was always a close match Price could not catch the German.

Last year, with victories in the Open and the US PGA championships, Price was reckoned to be the best golfer out there. This year he has suffered by comparison. "From tee to green there is no difference in my game," he said. "It's just the putting. I just don't have that little extra something." Not so long ago Langer suffered such agonies on the greens that he cast putters aside like so much scrap iron.

If the hole was three feet from his ball he was looking at a nightmare. The improvisation of placing his left hand low on the shaft and stabilising it with his right brought about dramatic improvement. Langer does not miss many three-footers any more but that doesn't put a spring into his stride. The word that comes immediately to mind is painstaking. Perhaps that is why he finds the game so exhausting.

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