It’s the most wonderful time of the year. This is Christmas for golf. This is Masters Week. In the north and Midwest this is the unofficial start to our golf season. And as blessed as we were to enjoy the event just 5 months ago in November, this just feels right. We return to the 2nd week in April. We return to the reds and pinks of the azaleas. The patrons also return.
As does Bernhard Langer. I truly believe in the term “horses for courses.” No matter what condition a player’s game is in, when they step on a particular course, things just come together and a level of comfort turns to confidence. There are places I just always seem to play well and there are tracks where I wouldn’t score well if the hole was the size of a whale’s ass. There’s a group of guys that just always seem to play well historically at Augusta. They are normally a fixture on the leaderboard and always give themselves a chance to contend. Arnie, Jack, and Gary were in this group. Others are Norman, Freddie, and Westwood. When in good health, Tiger will always have a chance at the Masters. Recently it seems that Spieth, Bubba, and Rory always contend. The 63-year old Langer is in this category.
But Bernhard is a bit of anomaly. He’s a course technician if there ever was one. With 83 career worldwide wins, including 2 green jackets, he was never the longest player. Even in his prime. But at 63 he is downright short. In November he watched playing partner Rory McIlroy hit is opening tee shot 322 yards; mostly carry as the 1st plays uphill. Langer stepped up and striped his a whopping 251 yards. That’s a 71 yard difference. Langer can probably count on one hand how many 322 yard drives he’s hit in his career. “It’s just a different game that I’m not familiar with” he said after the round. At the 2020 event he averaged 42 yards less off the tee behind JT Poston for the first two rounds, 55 yards behind Rory in the 3rd, and 64 yards behind DeChambeau in the final round. Yet he beat Bryson by 2 strokes and finished 29th.
Langer is reminded of this disadvantage every time he tees it up; even on the Champions Tour where he stacks 1st place checks like a boss. But he enjoys it. Beating the guys that hit it way past him is fun. What he lacks in power he makes up for in shot-making and a tactical approach. Which, “ding, ding, ding”, is exactly what you need at Augusta. Sure, hitting a wedge into a green instead of a 6 iron is a huge advantage anywhere; especially at a place like Augusta where the green complexes are so treacherous. A lot of the time to get near the hole you have to land the ball 40 feet right of the pin. If you go right at the flag, many times you find yourself releasing to the back and over or trickling sideways into a bunker.
I can’t think of another course that rewards experience like Augusta National. A seasoned vet with past success will always have a chance there. It doesn’t matter how far you hit it off the tee. Don’t get me wrong, long hitters can take advantage of some of the holes…but it doesn’t matter on some. For instance, number 3. At 330 yards, players can try and get as close to the green with their tee ball as possible, but that leaves an extremely awkward pitch shot and a weird number. If they lay back and give themselves a full wedge, you can spin it right off the front of the green.
Bernhard steps on the tee and plays a lot of the holes at Augusta in his mind backwards. He looks at where the pin is for the day then decides where he can and can’t miss. He then chooses his club and route off the tee from there. “There are plenty of holes I can’t get close to with a hybrid, so it frustrates me to see my playing partners stick it in there with a 9 iron. But I can’t show it. I embrace the challenge and have fun with it.”
Langer’s plan with his coach at a young age was to build a swing that he could rely on well into his 60’s and 70’s. It was made to take pressure off his back, which he injured when he was 19 training for the German air force. He looks at some of the beautiful but violent swings of guys today like Jason Day, Bryson, Tiger, and Brooks Koepka, and wonders how long they can sustain it. All mentioned already have a history of injuries. And let this be a lesson to all of you…Bernhard utilizes his strengths instead of harping on his weaknesses; he putts, chips, and ball-strikes the hell out of it. He finished 4th in putting and 1st in driving accuracy at the Masters in November.
Bernhard Langer is the newest brand ambassador for Tour Edge! “I have never hit a hybrid or fairway wood that looked and felt as good as the Exotics.” Shop the Tour Edge line at GolfHQ.com
Fantasy picks Fantasy golf is hard. I had Jordan and Charley Hoffman last week in Texas and still didn’t cash in. They finished 1st and 2nd for crying out loud! Here’s who I think will shine among the azaleas this week at the golf Mecca behind Kroger on Washington Road in Augusta, Ga. Winner Lee Westwood If he makes every 5 footer he looks at, he’ll win. If he doesn’t, he’ll finish in the top-5. Will contend Jason Kokrak Course suits him well and a big advantage having played his first Masters just 5 months ago. Sleeper Stewart Cink Returned to the winner’s circle in the fall and is playing his best golf in years. A lot of experience under his belt on this course.
Enjoy the game and each other,
Seth Zipay – Head Golf Professional