At 58, Langer continues to defy odds at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerApril 10, 2016, 1:01 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – “Hello, everybody,” Bernhard Langer said late Saturday afternoon, reclining in his chair behind the podium in the Augusta National interview room. “It’s been a while since I’ve been here.”

Sorry, he was having a senior moment.

It was actually just two years ago that Langer played well enough to sit in this very room, in front of many of the same reporters, and attempted to explain how a Champions Tour player could possibly contend with all of the kids in a major championship.

These are familiar queries, of course. In 2013, he was tied for ninth heading into the final round here. A year later, he moved only two shots off the lead with 10 holes to play, but he didn’t adjust to the slower green speeds when it began to rain. He tied for eighth, the second-best finish by a player his age.

And so here we were again Saturday at Augusta, the aging warrior on the leaderboard, paired with the world’s No. 1-ranked player, Jason Day. Despite spotting his fellow playing competitor nearly 80 yards on some holes, Langer outscored Day, 70-71, and now will enter the final round of the 80th Masters in the penultimate group, only two shots off Jordan Spieth’s lead.

That's right: Two.

At 58 years, 7 months and 14 days, Langer would shatter the record for the oldest major champion in history – by, oh, more than a decade.

“I’m just trying to have fun, enjoy my last few years as a professional golfer and do the best I can,” he said.

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In his 33rd Masters appearance, Langer has more starts here than any of the other top six players on the leaderboard combined.

Add up the ages of Spieth (22), Smylie Kaufman (24) and Hideki Matsuyama (22). Together, they’re only a decade older than Langer.

Langer won his first Masters in 1985. Day was born two years later.

Langer won his second Masters in 1993. Spieth was born three months later.

It defies logic. How can a 58-year-old who averaged only 267 yards off the tee contend at the brutally long Augusta National? How can a 58-year-old with a decades-long battle with the yips survive these treacherous greens?

“We’re not playing tennis or soccer or football where it all comes down to speed and strength,” Langer said. “Golf is a lot more about knowing yourself and your technique. Just thinking your way around the golf course and then execution. There’s still other ways of doing it.”

And he has always done it his way.

One of the many keys to Langer's longevity has been his dutiful commitment to fitness. He is 5-foot-9 and a wiry 160 pounds – a stark contrast to some of his potbellied peers on the senior circuit – and showing no signs of breaking down physically.

“Look at him compared to the other guys on the Champions Tour,” said Dr. Norbert Dehoust, who has worked with Langer for the past decade. “He’s in such good shape.

“If you know him, and you know how he’s working at it, then you’re not surprised by this. Some of the other guys could do this as well, if they had the same habits and the same attitude. He’s so strict and focused.”

But Langer has also shown a willingness to adapt, to adjust, to reinvent himself, even if out of necessity.

Having struggled with the yips since he was 18, Langer has toyed with every grip and putter imaginable. When he won his first green jacket, in 1985, he used a conventional grip for longer putts and a cross-handed style for the shorter ones. When he won again, in ’93, he clutched the putter and his thumb against his left forearm, a grip called the Bavarian stranglehold.

“You don’t get bonuses looking pretty,” he said then.

In 1998, with his confidence in shambles, Langer switched to a broom-handle putter. Shoving the butt of the club into his sternum, he swung the long wand like a pendulum, a stroke that limited his wrist movement and used the larger muscles. He putted with this method with remarkable success, winning a whopping 25 times on the senior circuit.

But on Jan. 1, golf’s governed bodies, citing a “tremendous spike” in usage, enforced a rule that banned the anchored stroke, forcing Langer and roughly 15 percent of his peers to find a new method. He says he’s tried anywhere from 20 to 30 new putters with different grips – conventional, cross-handed, claw – and some of them even worked. But in the end, he returned to what felt most comfortable: He uses a long putter that is anchored while he addresses the ball, but then he moves his left hand slightly away from his sternum and strokes the putt.

“After putting so many hours into it,” he said, “it’s difficult to change now.”

It has led to a few uncomfortable moments on the Champions Tour. Only under close examination can it be determined that Langer’s left hand isn’t affixed to his body. He has drawn more than a couple of suspicious looks from his peers, and earlier this year he even needed to explain his intent to a tour official.

The thing is, Langer’s ball-striking is so pure, and so consistent, that he needs only to putt decently to succeed. In five senior starts this year, he has a win, a third and three other top-10s.

Augusta National figured to serve as the ultimate measuring stick for his revamped stroke, with its wildly undulating greens and off-the-charts speed because of the 25-mph gusts. But Langer hasn’t flinched, ranking 11th this week in putting.

At 58, Greg Norman nearly won the 2008 Open Championship. A year later, 59-year-old Tom Watson was one soft bounce from taking the Open at Turnberry.

“It’s going to happen sooner or later,” Langer said of an over-50 major winner. “The guys are staying fit. There are more athletes. They are taking care of themselves. It’s just a matter of time.”

And so now, it is his opportunity to turn back the clock, shooting the second-best round of the day on a course that was supposedly too long, too firm and too difficult for the old guys.

Paired with Day, Langer spotted the world No. 1 an average of 48 yards off the tee in the third round. On the par-5 second, Langer needed to step on a 3-wood just to wind up short of the green. Day hit 7-iron.

It was like that all day – Day wailing away on driver, Langer smartly navigating his way around a course he’s played about 200 times. The old-timer still birdied each of the four par 5s.

Someone asked Langer whether it seemed like they were playing different games.

“Yeah, we are,” he said with a smile. “But the scorecard doesn’t show it always.”

Langer saved bogey on the last, knocking in a 7-footer on the crusty green. The crowd roared and rose for a second standing ovation. The scorecard showed Langer 70, Day 71.

“It just goes to show how competitive he is,” Day said. “To be able to be a 58-year-old man, be competitive with us and want it as much as he did 40 years ago is pretty impressive.”

Vikki Langer was at Augusta all those years ago, when her wavy-haired husband slipped into a pair of green jackets.

It’s more thrilling now, she said. More unexpected, too, seeing his name near the top of the leaderboard at age 58. But it’s not unbelievable.

“Winning is not out of his capability, anywhere,” she said. “It never is. He knows he can win, and that’s kind of fun. He’s always going for it.”

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”

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Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

He picked up his clubs three times.

That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

Not that he was concerned, of course.

Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

“It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

“I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

“He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

“I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

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Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

“I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

“With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”

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Reed's major record now a highlight, not hindrance

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 2:46 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The narrative surrounding Patrick Reed used to be that he could play well in the Ryder Cup but not the majors.

So much for that.

Reed didn’t record a top-10 in his first 15 starts in a major, but he took the next step in his career by tying for second at the 2017 PGA Championship. He followed that up with a breakthrough victory at the Masters, then finished fourth at the U.S. Open after a closing 68.

He’s the only player with three consecutive top-4s in the majors.

What’s the difference now?

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“The biggest thing is I treat them like they’re normal events,” he said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I’ve always gone into majors and put too much pressure on myself, having to go play well, having to do this or that. Now I go in there and try to play golf and keep in the mindset of, Hey, it’s just another day on the golf course. Let’s just go play.

“I’ve been able to stay in that mindset the past three, and I’ve played pretty well in all three of them.”

Reed’s record in the year’s third major has been hit or miss – a pair of top-20s and two missed cuts – but he says he’s a better links player now than when he began his career. It took the native Texan a while to embrace the creativity required here and also to comprehend the absurd distances he can hit the ball with the proper wind, conditions and bounce.

“I’m sort of accepting it,” he said. “I’ve gotten a little more comfortable with doing it. It’s come a little bit easier, especially down the stretch in tournament play.”