“There is only one player in this week’s field from whom every one of the others could learn,” said Simon Holmes, the teaching professional who does much of the technical analysis on Sky Sports Golf. As for the competitor at the centre of this intriguing observation, it was none other than 63-year-old Bernhard Langer, the two-time Masters winner who on Thursday will be teeing up in the event for a 38th time.
You only have to revisit what Rory McIlroy and Bryson DeChambeau said about Langer at Augusta National last November to understand what Holmes meant. McIlroy, who played with him in the third round, said he had started to ask himself what on earth he would be scoring if he were hitting the same distance from the tee as Langer.
“It’s so impressive, just the way he methodically plots his way ’round and gets it up and down when he needs to,” McIlroy continued. “It’s really cool to watch.”
(For the record, McIlroy was second in the driving distance stats that day with 319.7 yards while Langer was last with 263.4.)
Moving on to DeChambeau, Langer’s last-day companion, his scientific theories were overtaken by an overwhelming sense of awe. “Even though I’m bombing it past Bernhard, he’s still playing better than me,” the 2020 U.S. Open champion said. “That’s the cool part about the game of golf. You can shoot a score whatever way you want – and still be able to do it at his age.”
Langer, incidentally, closed with a 71 to finish in a share of 29th place while DeChambeau closed with a 73 to tie 34th.
Holmes, who worked with Langer across the 1990s and to this day has an arrangement where he must ring his old pupil if he spots anything amiss with his swing, explained how Langer’s secret is one of working with his age rather than battling against it. “Instead of fighting it, he just keeps making the necessary adjustments,” Holmes said.
“When he was younger, he would see guys trying to thrash the ball in their 40s in a bid to keep up with the rest but, when he started losing a bit of length himself, he decided that from a 7-iron in, he would need to be amazing. He was totally at peace with that. If he has to chip and putt seven times in a round, he’ll do it. At the same time, he doesn’t waste any mental energy worrying about what his playing companion or what anyone else might be up to. If you beat him, he’s entirely happy for you.”
Yet another salient point from Holmes was how, even today, Langer is excited at what the next day holds. “He’s so fresh, so motivated,” he said. “He’s what I would describe as the ultimate golf professional, and I couldn’t have more respect for him.”
Pete Coleman, who caddied for Langer for his two wins at Augusta, shared Holmes’ view that Langer benefits from his simple, uncomplicated lifestyle on what is never an easy stage: “He’s dedicated to playing good golf and to leading a good life outside of golf. He’s got this inner peace about him.”
“He never comes off the course without giving 100 percent and, at the end of his days, he’ll be able to say of his career that it had been as good as it could possibly have been.”
Coleman, who turns 80 this week, went on to give a cheerful chuckle at how his old employer is now in his element in an area of the game where he used to find himself on the receiving end of not a few fines. Namely, slow play.
“They’re all like tortoises now,” said Coleman, at a time when the last day of the recent WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was still fresh in his mind. “At one stage, I went out of the room to make a cup of tea, and when I got back the same fellow was still weighing up the same putt.”
Neither Coleman nor Holmes would be surprised were Langer to make the cut for the fourth time in a row in a major in which he has had nine top-10s – the most recent in 2014 when he birdied four of the last five holes to finish in a share of eighth place.
“He was brilliant when he won in 1985 and 1993 and 28 years on he’s still brilliant,” Holmes said. “He never comes off the course without giving 100 percent and, at the end of his days, he’ll be able to say of his career that it had been as good as it could possibly have been."
Tom Watson, speaking on a virtual call last week, is another fan: “At 63, he’s like me in not having the right tools in the box to win at Augusta any more. But he’s had three great Masters in a row and could well have another.”
Langer, for his part, has a typically Langer mindset for this week. He knows he can do better than he did last November when Augusta was playing its longest and he was having to hit 3-woods or hybrids into most of the par-4s.
Judging from what Holmes had to say, he will be going to bed on Wednesday thinking, gleefully, of how he should benefit from the extra 10 to 20 yards from faster-running fairways.
Top: Two-time champion Bernhard Langer has reached the weekend six times in his past eight Masters appearances.