He has tried about every club and technique, but now is confidently stroking the ball with a long putter.
By BOB HARIG
© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 19, 2001
LAKE BUENA VISTA -- For years, even the most ardent golf fans have stopped in their tracks at the sight of Bernhard Langer on the greens. They whisper. They point. They shake their heads.
One of the best golfers in the world, a nine-time European Ryder Cup participant and two-time Masters champion, Langer has agonized over the part of the game that seems so simple.
Through a career that has spanned more than two decades and more than 40 international titles, Langer has sought a comfortable putting stroke. He has experimented with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of putters. He has used different techniques. He thought about putting with his eyes closed.
Now using a fourth different putting method in competition (plenty of others have been experimented with), he is enjoying a rejuvenation of sorts at age 44.
Langer shot 5-under-par 67 Thursday during the first round of the National Car Rental Golf Classic at Walt Disney World and was part of a crowded leaderboard, two strokes behind leaders Steve Lowery, Stewart Cink, Scott McCarron, Len Mattiace and Shaun Micheel.
Langer, a native of Germany who lives in Boca Raton, was among more than 40 players within four shots of the lead, including Tiger Woods, who shot 69.
It simply was another good round in an excellent year for Langer, who had five birdies and no bogeys on the Magnolia course, one of two used for the tournament. In addition to two victories in Europe, including the German Masters two weeks ago, Langer has a second and two thirds on the PGA Tour, where he ranks 23rd on the money list with $1,659,399 in 15 events. He also finished third at the British Open and is third on the European Order of Merit rankings.
"I'm driving the ball better, putting better, doing everything better," said Langer, whose victory in July at the Dutch Open was his first since 1997. "The longer you go, the more doubts you're going to get. But even the years I didn't win, I came close a couple of times. I knew if I could just raise my game a little bit, I was still contending."
Langer now uses the long putter that was made popular a generation ago on the Senior PGA Tour. Among the first to try cross-handed putting after he got the "yips" using the conventional method, Langer also went to a split cross-handed method that looked as if he were checking his pulse.
He would choke down on the putter with his left hand, the shaft resting against his forearm. Instead of gripping the top of the putter with his right hand, Langer grasped his left forearm. With this technique, he took his hands, wrists and elbows out of the stroke.
"It worked. I putted well," he said. "I won the Masters (in 1993) on some of the toughest greens in the world (at Augusta National).
"If you want to survive out here, you have to score. You don't get bonuses for looking pretty. It doesn't hurt to look pretty, but you don't get anything for it."
Langer, however, never thought he would try the long putter. Not because of how it looks, but because of how it performed. A long putter allows a player to anchor the club with one hand at the top, while using the bottom hand to stroke the putt.
"(European tour player) Sam Torrance told me I should use the long putter," Langer said. "I said, "There's no way I can. It feels like a snake in my hand. It just moves everywhere.' I couldn't use it. But I was putting okay then. It just didn't feel right.
"I remember Tom Watson said it was not part of the tradition of the game (to use a long putter). "I don't want to be seen with it.' But I want to shoot low scores. And when I struggled with the other one, this started to feel good from short range. And that's where you need to make them."
Langer has been using the long putter for five years. And judging by the various forms of putting styles -- long putters, belly putters, claw grips, cross-handed grips, etc. -- players will do what they have to do to get the ball in the hole.
"The next thing I tell you is I'll be putting between my legs," said PGA Tour player Blaine McCallister, who is right-handed but putts left-handed and cross-handed. "Whatever it takes. Whatever you feel comfortable with. This is a game of confidence."
Langer is playing, and putting, with plenty of that these days.