‘Seve would have hit that 1-iron under the branch, over the trees, and taken a gamble’
During the golden age of European golf, they were two titans at the top of the game.
Bernhard Langer and Seve Ballesteros – along with Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam – were part of the big five that dominated major championships in the 1980s and early 1990s and turned the Ryder Cup decisively in Europe’s favour after decades of struggle.
Langer and Ballesteros each won a pair of Green Jackets and amassed a total of 92 European Tour wins.
Great rivals, but also friends, they faced off against each other at the peak of their powers.
So as we continue to mourn the loss of Seve, who died in 2011, we asked Langer to recount some of his memories of the great man.
What is your favourite Seve story?
There are several. The one I tell sometimes is when he was the Ryder Cup captain at Valderrama and I was paired with Monty. We were playing 18 and I think we were all square for the match [against Lee Janzen and Jim Furyk in the Saturday foursomes].
Monty drove it through the fairway into the trees – these cork trees – and the Americans had a good drive in the fairway.
So I am down there, I’ve got this tree trunk in front of me and the pin is over there. I have really no shot. Seve comes in the buggy. He’s coming down the hill and I can see him coming straight at me as fast as he could.
He comes to a screeching halt next to my ball, jumps out and goes, ‘Bernhard, Bernhard, have you considered taking a 1-iron?
‘You start it 30 yards over there, go under this branch and you climb it over those trees over there and slice it back to the green’.
I’m going, ‘Yes Seve. I’ve considered this but I’m in the rough and I can’t spin the ball like I can on the fairway. We got it.’
I kind of told him to just step away. Monty and I can handle it.
I talked to Monty briefly. ‘Do you want me to take on this shot, which I most likely will not pull off or do you want me to hack it out there and give you your favourite wedge distance and we’ll make par that way?’
He goes, ‘Perfect. Just give me about 100 yards and you got it.’ I chipped it out there, he knocks it to about eight feet and I make the putt and we won the match.
Seve would have hit that 1-iron under the branch, over the left trees, slicing it around and taking a gamble.
You played together during the golden age of European golf. Were you close friends or was it the camaraderie of battle?
It started off more as a rivalry, I would say. We were obviously somewhat friends.
For instance, he gave me a tip about putting – or my putter – at Sunningdale at the very beginning of my career in 1980. He came over, took my putter, hit a couple with it and just shook his head and walked away.
I went, ‘Hey, Seve, why are you shaking your head?’ He said, ‘You really want to know?’ I said, ‘Yeah, you’ve already won majors and I’m just starting off here.’
He goes, ‘It’s too light and it doesn’t have any loft.’
So I immediately go in the pro shop, look for putters that are heavier and have more loft and I found one. I bought it and finished 3rd, 2nd and 1st the next three weeks. I won my first European Tour event.
So we were friends and we were talking nicely to each other but, as this develops in the ’80s and ’90s and our heyday for both of us, we became rivals.
We were competing for the same majors. We were teammates in the Ryder Cup but competing in just about any other week for big titles around the world.
He beat me a couple of times in the Match Play Championship. He beat me at St Andrews in 1984, when he made that famous putt. I was 2nd.
Then he was paired with me again in ’85 when I won my first Masters. It went back and forth but, to me, it was encouraging because I was paired with him many times and he had won several majors and I’d beaten him on a number of occasions too.
I knew I had beaten him before so if he could win majors then I should be winning majors too. It gave me the confidence that I had the game to win a major.
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Bernhard Langer is a brand ambassador of Mercedes-Benz.