Bernhard Langer on dropping the anchored putter
Bernhard is the best bad putter I have ever seen,” laughs Larry Mize, a colleague of Bernhard Langer’s on the PGA Tour Champions (as they now call it), a close friend and a fellow past Masters champion. “He has had his issues but he can putt.”
Langer, who became the first golfer to win the PGA Tour Champions’ Charles Schwab Cup three times, has had to adjust his putting technique for the 2016 season in the wake of the anchoring ban. Some rivals must have been wondering if the 59-year-old German would be able to find a new putting stroke as effective as his old one.
Was Langer’s reign over seniors’ golf set to come to an unceremonious halt amid jittery yips over those slippery three footers?
Well, not yet. Not only did Langer open his last year’s campaign with three top-10 finishes in as many starts, but he won the third tournament of the season, the Chubb Classic. While he has experimented with a number of putting techniques and putters already this season, most striking about Langer’s putting at the Chubb Classic was just how much his technique looked like the anchored stroke he had adopted for the previous 19 years.
He played with his same old Odyssey 2-Ball putter, complete with broom handle shaft, and even his practice strokes were anchored via his left fist on his chest. But once Langer addressed the ball he moved his fist away from his chest by just an inch to release the anchor point and play a legal stroke.
An opening round of 62, 10 under par, included 11 birdies and paved the way for a wire-to-wire victory, although Langer has since admitted that his new putting regime remains a work in progress.
“Because I won it that does not mean I have found the putting technique I will use forever,” says Langer. “I am still experimenting to see if there is a better way.
“I have tried between 15 and 20 different putters over the winter with different techniques. I have tried a regular putter and grip, some with the claw grip, some with clasping the forearm and the ‘Kuchar’ grip with the putter grip leaning against the left forearm. I am still experimenting.”
A second round of 66 in the Chubb Classic was Langer’s 19th consecutive round under par on the PGA Tour Champions and while a closing 73, one over par, brought that run to an end, it saw him ease to a three-shot victory over Fred Couples. It was Langer’s 26th win on the PGA Tour Champions and places him third on the all-time list of winners.
Hale Irwin and Lee Trevino are the only men to have won more, with 45 and 29 titles respectively.
Twice the Masters champion – in 1985 and 1993 – Langer’s success on tour has endured for 40 years despite recurring battles against the yips. Each time Langer was inflicted on the greens he found a solution and now he looks to have found the answer to the anchoring ban too.
“Anchoring was never the only putting cure. If it were then everybody would have anchored,” he says. “I putted with an anchored stroke for 19 years but it did not mean I was the best putter. Let’s face it, I still missed putts and I still had many days when I felt I did not putt well.
“I have always tried to adapt as times have changed. Many of the changes in the game 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 3-wood I am actually longer than I was 30 years ago. Who would have thought that would happen?”
More than putting, the consistency and precision of Langer’s iron play as been a keystone of his success over the decades, although he did lead the PGA Tour Champions in putting average in 2015, with 1.72 putts per green. Despite his putting.
Despite his putting experiments, Langer’s early season putting average was 1.73 – almost identical – although his ranking slipped to 15th.
Langer’s putting technique at the Chubb Classic looked so similar to his previous anchored stroke that television viewers called in to the Golf Channel broadcaster in the United States requesting clarification.
Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of rules, confirmed to the Golf Channel that Langer’s putting stroke is “close” to being illegal, but that it is allowed. Pagel added: “This is what I expect Bernhard to do. This is how I expected him to putt this year.”
“Obviously I am not going to intentionally anchor the putter,” adds Langer. “I wouldn’t want to break the rule. I like to be a player of integrity and I play by the rules, but even if I did anchor my stroke I would never get away with it playing golf in front of my colleagues, caddies, officials, spectators and in front of TV cameras.
“I cleared all this up with the officials on the Champions Tour in December before the rule came into effect. I talked to our officials and we went through every possible scenario of what I can do and of what I can’t do, and I went from there.
“Some people are confused by the new rule, but some of them have not read through the details and some even think the ban is for the long putter and not for the anchored putting stroke. Of course the long putter has not been banned and people need to understand what anchoring is and how the new rule is written. I have been through the process of learning about the new rule and figuring out what is legal and what is not.”
Langer will play two more senior events before heading to Augusta National to make his 33rd appearance in the Masters. Scotland’s Sandy Lyle, the Masters champion of 1988, is the only European golfer to have played in more Masters than Langer, with 34 appearances, although Langer has made more cuts and played more Masters rounds, 110 to Lyle’s 102. No European has played as many Masters rounds as Langer.
“It is hard to believe I have been playing in the Masters so long,” admits Langer, who made his Augusta National debut in 1982. “I know one thing, back then I would never have thought I would still be playing competitive golf in my fifties.
“The Masters is a fantastic tournament at a great venue and I enjoy going back each year. It is a unique place.”
The putting test posed by the notorious greens of Augusta National is unique too, and Langer’s non-anchored technique is set for its sternest test yet.