The day I met Bernhard Langer – and he laughed at my putting

The Scoop

Our club golfer had a close encounter with a major winner as he descended on Stuttgart for the MercedesTrophy World Final

This was much easier in practice.

Now there’s a camera pointing at me and a 10-time senior major winner is sticking my putting stroke under a magnifying glass.

It’s a 25-footer, a little right-to-left – one of the few curveballs that’s normally right in my wheelhouse.

But the blood is rushing through my chest. Bernhard Langer has his eyes fixed on me.

My hands are jingling – a feeling the twice Masters champion can empathise with – and the ball comes off the face like it’s been fired from a gun.

“He’s got a little adrenaline going,” Langer chuckles as it charges past the hole. “That’s a nasty six footer coming back.”

This was supposed to be Bernhard’s revenge, or that is how the production company trailing their microphones around Golf Schloss Nippenburg put it.

He’s taken a lifetime of abuse from hacks and now he’s meant to be getting his own back – ridiculing our pitiful efforts to sink the kind of putt he’s been slotting for decades on his way to more than 100 professional victories.

He can’t do it, though. Langer is just too nice.

“I do like your stroke,” he tells me.

For someone who plays off 11 and rated by GameGolf as worse than a 25-handicapper with a flat-stick in his hand, this is basically a declaration of love.

Bernhard and I are going to be BFFs.

Bernhard Langer

He is doing the rounds on this Stuttgart course he redeveloped and revitalised in the mid 1990s, in his role as a Mercedes-Benz ambassador.

It’s the MercedesTrophy World Final, the culmination of a yearly event that has seen 60,000 amateurs from more than 60 countries tee it up in 600 tournaments.

Some of them have won as many as half a dozen qualifying rounds, from local venues to battling through the wind at Kingbarns, to be here.

Now they are playing three rounds in teams, the first at Nippenburg and the final two at Stuttgarter Golf-Club Solitude, to decide the winner of the Nations Cup.

It is no surprise Stuttgart is the venue. It’s the home of the venerable carmaker and a motor head’s paradise.

In nearby Sindelfingen, where I’m staying at the appropriately named V8 Hotel during a whistle-stop tour, the school is named after Gottlieb Daimler.

Had he not perfected the art of the internal combustion engine, I’m not sure the town would even exist.

It’s basically a giant Mercedes star, the famous logo shines large – and twirls in the night sky – from most of the buildings in the town.

So there really isn’t a more obvious place for the company to entertain all their national winners over a week-long programme.

Entertain is the word. The event kicks off with a grand welcome ceremony and an Olympic-style parade of contestants.

Bernhard Langer

Many of the competitors don national dress. There’s this cacophony of colour – from the brash and the flamboyant to the Canadians decked out in hockey shirts and the Australians carrying inflatable kangaroos.

The Brits come as Bond.

Cultures combine seamlessly and easily. I leave bearing the weight of a dozen gifts – keepsakes handed out as is the custom.

But there is serious business to be completed. There’s a complimentary bar at the welcome and nearly everyone is gone by 11pm. Golf is to be played.

Nippenburg is a serious enough test, especially for those competitors on the higher-end of the handicap scale.

Bernhard Langer

The course guide describes the first as a straightforward par 5. All I see is the massive pond on the left and the long row of white posts spreading all the way down the near 500-yard hole.

Gulp.

It was an early start for many, too.

While I was sampling the delights of the Mercedes-Benz museum – and if you have any love for engines you’ve got to check out the journey from horse to super car – some of the players had been up since daylight broke to prepare for their tee-time.

Scores range from the sublime to the sizeable. Some spirits are bowed, but none are broken. For many, it’s the experience of a lifetime and they’re enjoying it no matter how many double bogeys are on their card.

As I’m leaving the course, buoyed by Bernhard’s comments and with the remnants of the first round field enduring the cluster of bunkers that guard the final hole, I notice Langer cutting a solitary figure on the practice ground.

He’s about to take on the 10th in a Beat Bernhard Langer competition.

The competitors have been taking their chances on that par 3 all day and now he has to get closer than every one of them.

He’s basically stood there, beating balls, for the sake of just one shot.

But when he stuffs it from 164 yards, a shot that’s just robbed every one of the 96 finalists of a fairytale story they’d be repeating for a lifetime, you realise why he’s such a relentless winner – and the sacrifice and preparation it takes to get there.

Later, in the aptly named Legendhalle, Mercedes models awarded to Langer after his two Masters victories in 1985 and 1993 compete for attention alongside the cars of the future.

But the focus falls on the man himself as he fields questions from the audience and a watching web.

They range from the eclectic – ‘Does your wife play golf and how many shots do you give her?’ The answer is no – to the more conventional ‘What’s your best ever score in a tournament?’ It was 60 at the German Masters in Berlin.

Bernhard Langer

Langer is engaging. It seems the whole room wants a photograph with him when his session on stage is over.

With that, the lure of the course again takes precedent, the hall empties and a plane seat has my name on it.

Team South Asia ultimately have their name on the Nations Cup – their 192 stableford points enough to lift them past Team Latin America.

What of the Brits? They have every chance going into the final round but their fate is to finish seventh.

As one tournament comes to an end, back at Kingsbarns another set of club golfers are taking on the Scottish links in their bid to experience a week of Stuttgart magic.

It’s a wheel that’s been turning for 28 years. If the 2017 World Final is any guide, there’s plenty of petrol left in the tank.

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For more details about the MercedesTrophy, visit the Mercedes-Benz website

Images: GES-Sportfoto/Mercedes-Benz

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