Twice a Masters champion, and a Ryder Cup legend as a player and captain, Germany’s Bernhard Langer is today a dominant force on the Champions Tour. A golfer who has conquered putting demons with the help of a broomhandle putter and an anchored putting stroke, Langer spoke exclusively to Robin Barwick about why he thinks it is a mistake for the R&A and USGA to be banning anchored putting strokes.
What do you make of the R&A and USGA’s decision to ban anchored putting?
I don’t understand why they are doing it. There are much bigger problems in the game of golf than golfers using long or belly putters. Let’s face it: the distance tour golfers hit the ball today is a double-edged sword. People love watching tour golfers hit the ball 340 yards in the air, but it becomes very expensive when clubs need to build longer golf courses, and they need more land and course maintenance becomes more expensive too.
If they really think anchored putting is not fair, why wait 35 years to make up their minds? If it doesn’t have a place within the rules of golf today, then it should not have done 30 years ago either.
The rule change really does not make any sense, and to say that anchored putting is against the traditions of the game is a bunch of baloney. Does the big driver go with the tradition of the game, or the hybrid, or today’s golf balls? We are facing lots of issues in which the tradition of the game has been totally ignored. The materials are so light these days that we can play longer shafts, swing the club faster, and hit the ball longer and straighter. Equipment continues to become more forgiving. The ball and the driver have brought a far greater change to the game than anchored putting.
The PGA of America has claimed the ban could further reduce golf participation as a whole.
A large percentage of club professionals are saying this is not the way to grow the game. The rule change is really going to hurt growth as more people will not enjoy playing golf. There are a lot of golfers who struggle with a short putter – no matter what their age – and they have invested in a long putter, they have got used to it and they enjoy the game because they can putt. If you force these players to use a short putter some will just give up because they will stop enjoying the game. They will turn to croquet or tennis or whatever.
Do you think the anchored stroke makes putting easier?
Well, golfers with an anchored putting stroke do not just stand over the ball and watch it go in the hole. If it was like that then everyone would be anchoring. There is a far smaller percentage of golfers using long putters than there are using short putters. With anchored putting, golfers are still making a stroke, they still need to read the greens and they still have to hold their nerve to make a stroke. It is not as if the long putter makes the putting stroke by itself.
How many golfers are using big-headed, titanium drivers? Almost 100%. I don’t know anybody using a persimmon or steel driver with a steel shaft. Why? Because the new technology gives an advantage. Who’s using the long putter? 15% maybe, or 10% of golfers. If it gave an advantage, everybody would be using it.
Do you think professional golfers should play to different rules than amateur players?
Let’s face it; tour golfers are really not playing the same game as amateurs anyway. We might play the same golf ball, but pros get so much more out of the ball; most amateurs can’t compress the ball to gain the benefits that pros do, but they still buy the balls because of marketing. The amateurs play off forward tees while pros are being sent further and further back. The two games are very different.
Is there sufficient time for you to adjust your putting stroke by January 1, 2016?
The idea that professionals have enough time to adjust their putting stroke by 2016 is a misconception. We all know it takes a long time to perfect something, and that is what we are talking about here; perfection. If I am not close to perfection then I will be off the tour in a heartbeat.
There is a 10,000-hour theory, that to be really good at something you need to spend at least 10,000 hours doing it. Most people don’t learn how to putt in a day, or in a week, and it is the same with whatever else you want to perfect. So they can’t say to me that I will have two years to practice with a short putter and be really good at it, when I have spent the last 17 years playing with a long putter. Even if I practiced for two hours a day with a short putter, it would take me over 10 years to get close to 10,000 hours. I don’t have 10 or 12 years.
If the ban stands, I’m just going to have to find a different way to putt.
It has now been 20 years since your second Masters triumph. Are you surprised by how much has golf equipment changed since then?
Equipment has certainly changed dramatically. The persimmon clubheads were really heavy in comparison to today’s drivers, and they needed to have shorter shafts to keep them under control. Metal heads came in and the shafts got lighter and longer, and the clubfaces got bigger.
I have always just tried to adapt. Many of the changes have been fun for me too – I hit the ball as far now with my irons as I used to 30 years ago, and with the driver and three-wood I am actually longer than I was 30 years ago. Who would have thought that would happen?
Rory McIlroy switched to Nike clubs at the beginning of the year, and he has just finished 49th in the FedExCup. What do you make of his switch?
It is totally up to Rory. If he is smart and has good management – which I hope he has – then he shouldn’t switch equipment unless he is convinced they are the right clubs. I imagine he would have tried the equipment for weeks and months before making the decision.
That is how I have always decided my equipment deals: the company guarantees they will get the equipment right for your game, or else you play whatever clubs you like, but the contracts aren’t like that today. In the old days I would make sure I could play with the new clubs before making a switch – the new clubs would have to produce the same results or better. I want to have fun playing golf and I can make money on the golf course playing better. I don’t want to be aggravated, and blaming my driver, or putter or golf ball, and being miserable because I know my equipment is not as good as it used to be. No money is worth that agony.
As long as the new equipment is as good as the old, I would rather have $25 million than not. Who wouldn’t?
Once and for all, is it true you once asked your caddie if the yardage he gave you was to the front or the back of a sprinkler head?
It was Monty who put that into circulation. He and I were playing together in the 1991 Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island. I remember it clearly: we were walking up the second fairway in a fourball match [against Steve Pate and Corey Pavin, which Colin Montgomerie & Langer won 2&1] and I was discussing yardages with Monty’s caddie, and in making fun of how precise I am, the caddie asked: “Would you like to know to the front or the back of the sprinkler head?”
In truth, I don’t care what part of the sprinkler head the yardage is to, but the story gets bigger the more it is told. We laughed about it at the time, and I said: “Just give me the number!”