There was absolutely no disputing who the world’s dominant golfer was in the Noughties. See, you’ve already realised the answer is Tiger Woods. Most very emphatically. Between the beginning of 2000 and the end of 2009, he won 12 major championships and 50 other tournaments, frequently making top-quality players like Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh seem like also-rans. Because, compared to him, they were.
Notwithstanding his Masters victory last April, Woods could not lay claim to the 20-teens. He won one major and 10 other titles, which puts him a little shy of Bubba Watson (two majors and 10 others). The main man, with 24 worldwide victories, four of them majors, was Rory McIlroy. So it’s him, yes? Well, yes and no, because this column is about Bernhard Langer.
The greatest golfer Germany has ever produced will be 63 in August. Over the past decade on the Champions Tour (now the PGA Tour Champions) in the States, he has accumulated 32 victories, 11 of these being senior major championships. The middle one of Europe’s ‘Famous 5’ – Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Langer, Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam – who were born within 12 months of each other between spring 1957 and spring 1958, whoever would have predicted when they were in their respective primes that Langer would be the one still playing top-level golf after all these years? As recently as 2014 he finished tied eighth at the Masters, a tournament he won in 1985 and 1993. In between times, in 1988, while Ballesteros was celebrating his fifth major title after winning the Open at Lytham, Langer was left with the memories of having five-putted the final green.
He has recovered from the allegedly incurable yips more than any estimable golfer in history. He went to the broomhandle putter in the 1990s and hasn’t looked back, although sometimes his rivals have looked at him askance. The rules of the game were amended with effect from January 2016 to say the long putter was OK but ‘anchoring’ was not – i.e. it is not permitted to have the club or the hands that hold it to be in contact with any other part of the body, usually the chest. Langer has always insisted he holds the club an inch or so away from his chest but some of his rivals have on occasion disputed this. The matter became a particularly hot potato ahead of the Senior Open Championship at Royal Porthcawl in 2017. Langer responded by winning his third major of the season. Since he became eligible on turning 50 in summer 2007, he has been the leading senior money-winner in the States in all but two of the full campaigns he has fought.
A victorious Ryder Cup captain in 2004, as a playing member Langer was a marvellously versatile partner. His captains paired him with 12 different partners across the foursomes and fourballs in ten different contests. Among these players was Colin Montgomerie, and when Monty was the captain at Celtic Manor in 2010 consideration was given to naming Langer as the first senior golfer to make the squad.
There is no question that the long putter has contributed to the longevity of Bernhard Langer’s stellar career. But in a world where millennials and Generation Z dominate sport, let’s salute the achievements of a soon-to-be-pensioner. Frohes neues Jahr!
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