Langer praying for a tempest to help steady his hand
Popular German hoping to add an Open title to the two Masters Green Jackets in his wardrobe back home
Wednesday 16 July 1997
For when it comes to predictions in extreme weather, even Michael Fish could forecast that Langer would take a hand in a golf tournament. Earlier this season it was the German who captured the Benson and Hedges International when a near tornado attempted to take the St Mellion clubhouse on the same path as Dorothy's house to Munchkinland.
Troon may seem benign during its light zephyr days, but this is a trout tickler of a course where finesse and course management are paramount. "Someone said that no one murders Troon," Lee Trevino once said. "The way I played the Open there they couldn't even arrest me for second degree manslaughter."
The vagaries of the Ayrshire gales leave hope in a man who has missed his last two cuts. "My course strategy comes out better in bad conditions," Langer said. "I don't blame the circumstances for not playing well and I don't talk myself into being miserable. I just accept what I find out there and try to make the best out of it. Sometimes the best is a 63 and sometimes it's an 83. Some of that is natural to me and some of it I have to work on."
The ready image of Langer is the Bavarian automaton, a man who would not react if his puppy disappeared under a lorry wheel. If you ask him why he is so undemonstrative, a crevice smile opens up on his face which renders the question rather absurd. "I have lots of emotions and if you ask my caddie I'm sure he will confirm that," he answered. "Maybe I have a different way of showing it because I'm not an explosive person who reacts immediately, but somebody who keeps something inside. It's good that way because if we were all the same it would be boring.
"Some days I'm more nervous than others and a lot of that depends on how well you're playing and how confident you are. When I'm playing well I feel as though I can hit any shot under any circumstance."
Some of Langer's stoicism can be attributed to the chromosomes. His distant family were wealthy farmers from the Czechoslavakia-fringed regions of the Sudetenland, an area quickly swallowed up by Nazi Germany's expansion eastwards.
Langer's father, Erwin, was conscripted and assigned as a courier feeding news to the German lines. He was captured by the Russians in 1945 and did not think much of the restorative qualities of his destination when he learned it was a lovely little place called Siberia. Erwin jumped train one night and fled into the woods before resettling in Anhausen, where Bernhard was born.
He has since won 49 Tour events and his two majors have come in the Masters, amid the marbled halls (and marbled greens) of Augusta. For morbid fascination, watching Langer putt has often been like peering at the steaming wreckage of a motorway collision.
His most celebrated putt was a six-footer at Kiawah Island in the 1991 Ryder Cup. It missed, but there was no better man to miss it. "At first it was something that consumed me but, from a Christian point of view, there was only one perfect human being, the Lord Jesus, and we killed him," Langer said at the time. "I only missed a putt.
"It was better that I had to take that putt rather than any of the others. I probably got over it better and faster than some might have done."
These days, with several attacks of the yips and a full reading of the putting Kama Sutra behind him, Langer is no longer penitent. "I really don't ponder on it at all," he said. "I gave it my best and I actually made a good putt there. It felt like a good stroke, but in the end it was just a misread and the green was not like a billiard table. I didn't miss on purpose.
"There are still a lot of options left with the putting, you know. Nobody would have thought you could putt the way I did for seven or eight years with my hand on the forearm. I might revert to what I did a few years ago or try something else they invent. The important thing is that it works. I might still experiment with different grips, techniques and putters. Right now I just play hole by hole and day by day, but it doesn't mean that the yips won't come back again because I've had them four times already."
If the broomhandle can sweep all before it at Troon then Langer believes he will have an early celebration before his 40th birthday next month. "You always wonder if you've won your last tournament, especially when you have a few weeks and months when you're not even close to winning," he said.
"I still hope to be in contention in majors and I played fairly well at the Masters, finishing seventh when nobody was close to Tiger. With a bit better form I could have finished second. I think there is still a major left in me, it's just a question of playing well that given week."
For those who appreciate a good guy among men who would not give you the cuttings from between their spikes there is a fervent wish for that week to arrive now. Blow wind, blow.
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