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Why Bernhard Langer Is So Good

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Bernhard Langer is in pursuit of an unprecedented fourth-straight Charles Schwab Cup. At the age of 60, he is having his best season ever, already having won a personal best seven times in only 21 starts in 2017. He now ranks No. 2 all-time with 36 Champion’s Tour Victories. Only Scott McCarron has a reasonable chance to win the Schwab Cup, but he must win the Charles Schwab Cup Championship this weekend to do so.

I’m blessed to call Bernhard one of my best friends. Over the years, we’ve spent a lot of time together, both on and off the course. We share a love for the mountains; we are both avid skiers. Our families have had many winter ski trips together. We’ve also played a lot of practice rounds together, even though both of us otherwise prefer to play practice rounds alone.

We first met in 1980 when John Cook and I traveled to France to play in the Cacherel World Under-25 Championship, a tournament in which Bernhard had a breakthrough win the year before. Winning by 15 shots was noteworthy enough, but more important was that it meant Bernhard had overcome his first case of the putting yips.

When we were paired together in the first two rounds in the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, his yips were returning. Bernhard missed the cut, and I finished third (behind Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus). It was there that people noticed we looked alike. We both had long, curly, dirty blond hair and a similar build.  Bernhard still laughs about how often people would approach him and ask, “Hey Bobby, can I have your autograph!” It didn’t take long before the reverse became much more common.

That summer of ’82, Bernhard failed to qualify for the British Open at Troon. He loaned me his caddie, Peter Coleman, and we proved to be a good combination. I went on to set the then-36-hole British Open scoring record with a 67 and 66 that opened up a five-stroke lead. Unfortunately, I struggled on the weekend and finished four strokes behind Tom Watson.

In April of 1985, Bernhard and I had made a date to play a practice round together on Tuesday at 10 a.m. at Hilton Head the week after the Masters. I had not qualified for the Masters that year, and when Bernhard won, I wasn’t sure he would remember. But true to Bernhard, he showed up at 9:55 a.m., a big entourage following the first No. 1 player in the Sony Rankings, which would become the Official World Golf Rankings. Several tour players asked to play with us, but we politely told them our group was full. We both liked it that way because then we could get some good work done. There would be more time to hit extra shots, especially around the green.

Not only have discipline and perseverance played a very important role in Bernhard’s success as a golfer, but his faith has given him a grounding and steadiness that explains the deepest “why” for what he does for a living and who he is as a person. I’ve never seen Bernhard upset or angry. I’ve never seen him throw a club. I’ve never seen him treat a human being unkindly. I’ve never even seen him raise his voice at his children. He lives his life in a very consistent fashion, full of routine, discipline and a focus on healthy things. He gets his eight hours of sleep every night, he works out everyday, he drinks his vitamin smoothie every morning, and he reads his daily devotional. No wonder his golf game is so consistent. It is a mirror of his life.

When I think of Bernhard, the word “humility” always comes to mind. He fully appreciates everything good that happens to him. I believe that the fear of being poor again has served Bernhard well and explains partially why he works so hard at his golf. He’s always thinking about ways to get better. It also explains why he never quits. I’ve never seen Bernhard not give a shot 100 percent, no matter what. He could be missing the cut or in the middle of a bad slump, but he’s still giving every shot his all.

Looking at Bernhard’s success, my opinion is that his character has been the leading contributor. How this carries over to his golf game gives us five key principles that we can all benefit from to improve our own games.

1. Analyze Your Game

Bernhard isolates the variables of his game and studies each one. He knows his strengths and weaknesses well, and he practices his weaknesses the most. Over the last two years, he had to figure out how to get around the “no-anchoring” policy set by the USGA. He made an inordinate effort,  trying at least a dozen different styles of putting before settling on the one he uses now, the closest to his putting form before the anchor ban. No one makes a higher percentage of six-foot putts in the game currently than Bernhard. Perhaps that missed six-footer at the 1991 Ryder Cup has motivated him to never let that happen again!

2. Analyze the Course

Bernhard, along with his caddie, Terry Holt, out-prepare other players when it comes to charting the course and detailing the greens. They both work separately with their notes, then come together when playing the course. In 2013, I encouraged Bernhard to play the First Tee Open at Pebble Beach, a tournament he hadn’t played since his rookie year on the Champions Tour. Bernhard knew I was knowledgeable about the course, so we played a practice round together. After the round, we headed back to my house where Bernhard sat at the dining room table with his yardage book and mine. My wife and I had to leave for a dinner, so we left Bernhard by himself, working at the dining table. When we returned four hours later, Bernhard was still at the table. “Where do you think the grain is on the back left of the 17th green?” he asked. That was a classic Bernhard moment!

3. Match Your Clubs with Your Swing

Bernhard spends a lot of time working on his equipment, especially when it comes to the driver. Over the years, driving was a weak point in his game and explained his lack of success on the narrow fairways of the U.S. Open, PGA Championship and British Open. In addition to refining his swing after turning 50, he has found a driver configuration that allows him to work the ball both ways, launch at just the right trajectory (12.5 degrees) and produce just the right spin rate (2300 rpm).

4. Perfect Your Short Game

Bernhard spends a lot of time chipping around the greens and hitting bunker shots in practice rounds. He is continually working on how to best use the bounce of the wedge, creating the ideal angle of attack to increase consistency around the greens.

5. Focus on Impact

Bernhard knows his swing style is a bit unusual. He doesn’t care. His focus is on his impact. He is always aware of his angle of attack, his path, his clubface and where he is hitting the ball on the face. His swing adjustments are always related to creating better impact. He exemplifies what it means to be an impact-oriented player.

Of course, the brilliance of Bernhard Langer goes beyond his greatness as a golfer. He is also one of the best humans I’ve ever known.

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For students wanting to experience how improving their impact will improve their games, Bobby suggests coming to his next Signature Golf School, creating your own private school for your own group, and/or signing up for a private lesson. Simply go to: www.impactzonegolf.com or call 239-236-5536. For those instructors who want to learn "Impact-Based®" instruction, Bobby Clampett now has a fully developed Advanced Level One online training fully supported by the PGA and LPGA with continuing education credits. For those who complete, Bobby and Impact Zone Golf are developing a Certification Program and ultimately a masters Program. Impact Zone Golf is ready to build an army of good golf instructors and rid the epidemic of frustrated golfers victimized by "style-based" instruction methods. Bobby Clampett is a well-known PGA Tour Winner and Longtime CBS Golf Broadcaster, but perhaps he will be best known for his discovery of Impact-Based® Instruction. His two golf academies are in Naples, Florida: Indoor Performance Studio (1040 Collier Center Way, Unit 14, Naples, FL 34110) and at the Tiburon Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort. Bobby is the first golf instructor in history to be a PGA Tour winner and earn PGA Master Professional in Teaching and Coaching. He and his team of Impact-Based® Academy Trained instructors offer year-round Golf Schools, Private Lessons, Women’s Programs, Annual and Seasonal Coaching Programs, Competitive Junior Training and much more. He now offers Instructor Training and Certification approved by the PGA and LPGA. Visit: https://impactzonegolf.com or call: 239-236-5536.

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. dave

    Sep 3, 2018 at 1:28 am

    I wish they’d let steriods, PEDs, HGH, adderal, drugs, blood spinning, platelet rich plasma treatments, etc etc be legal in pro sports. It seems like each time they ban one, the top players find another. Or a loophole for an existing one. Maybe then it would be an equal playing field, and we wouldn’t need asterisks for stats.

    Yes, he still grinds hard on the fun tour. But his doctor is #1 on his own over 50 tour as well.

  2. SK

    Nov 12, 2017 at 6:13 pm

    ****crickets**** from Clampett …. wotta fraud !!!

  3. Steve Wozeniak

    Nov 11, 2017 at 12:13 am

    Funny all this time he has spent with Bernhard and still has NO CLUE what he does in the golf swing……guess it’s why they are so far apart in wins and ability……sad……

    Steve Wozeniak PGA 425 533 4711

    • etc.

      Nov 11, 2017 at 12:22 pm

      Clampett was the tour picture player for The Golfing Machine which purported to scientifically analyze the golf swing. I don’t see any mention of Homer Kelly or TGM in Clampett’s golf life story. Wonder why not?

  4. Tom

    Nov 10, 2017 at 12:43 pm

    Thanks for this article. I don’t like slow play and have always disliked Langer because he plays so slow. Really I had no other justification for how I felt. Now I feel bad to find out he’s such a good guy and devoted Christian. I appreciate him after having read this.

    • etc.

      Nov 11, 2017 at 12:24 pm

      Maybe he silently prayed a lot while competing on the golf course. 😉

  5. Acew7iron

    Nov 10, 2017 at 9:38 am

    Good article and I have admired Bernhard’s game for years mainly because you can tell he is was nit just “gifted” a great swing or short game but rather had to work hard to get what he has accomplished.

    Ive often said Id rather have Bernhards swing rather than Tigers 2000 game…why?
    Bernhard is still a force,still active in the game & obviously has a swing that does not punish his body ala Tigers prime swing.

  6. Ronny

    Nov 10, 2017 at 1:59 am

    Bobby, I perused your Impact Zone Golf website and there is no mention of the contribution that Homer Kelley’s TGM made to your deeper understanding of the golf swing.
    Are you still a TGM GSED instructor?

  7. Dirk Digger

    Nov 9, 2017 at 8:23 pm

    6. Get a putter shaft longer than your driver, hold the putter shaft close to your body as you can and wear loose clothing.

    • mlecuni

      Nov 10, 2017 at 3:59 am

      +1
      The rule about it should have been putters no longer than 40″.

  8. Hale Irwin

    Nov 9, 2017 at 7:06 pm

    I’m the one shank

  9. M-Herd4

    Nov 9, 2017 at 4:58 pm

    He’s the best! My wife and I met him at the Dick’s Open in Endicott this year just down the street from our house. Great guy and a great role model indeed!

  10. OB

    Nov 9, 2017 at 4:53 pm

    Very informative and inspiring article about Langer.
    I would like to know how much time he devotes to practicing his putting on the greens with his long putter.
    It’s my impression that tour players practice their putting stroke a lot to acquire and retain that ‘feel’ that can be carried back to the course.
    It seems like putting feel varies from day to day and must be constantly reinforced with extra practice time.
    Thanks.

  11. Dave

    Nov 9, 2017 at 4:35 pm

    How can you say ONLY McCarron has a chance to win the Cup. Any player in the top 5 has the same chance!

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Viktor Hovland WITB

Driver: Ping G410 LST (9 degrees @ 8.5; flat standard, CG shifter in draw)
Shaft: Project X HZURDUS Black 6.5 (44.5 inches, D3 swing weight)

3-wood: TaylorMade M5 (15 degrees @ 14.5)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Tensei Blue AV 85 TX

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Shafts: Graphite Design Tour AD DI-85 X Hybrid (21), KBS Tour 120 X (4-PW)

  • Standard length, .5 degrees flat, D2+

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Realistic expectations

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(Today’s post is one I actually wrote nearly eight years ago, but I’m using it to start a series about “thinking your way to better golf.” I hope you enjoy the next few weeks.)

One of the great regrets of my life is that I missed the fatherhood experience, never having had children of my own. As I get older, I find that I gravitate to the younger folks, and offer my help whenever I can, whether on the golf course, on the water fishing, or just life in general. One of my joys is working with younger kids on their golf. That includes instruction, of course, but what I think is more important for them in the developmental stages is to learn to manage
their expectations. Actually, we all could benefit from that bit of advice.

On Sunday, I had the joy of playing with the 16-year-old son of one of our partners at SCOR Golf. Kyle is a tremendously talented young man who I’ve worked with quite a bit, but he really hasn’t committed himself to golf yet. I’m talking about the kind of commitment that keeps him working hard at it as long as there is daylight. He might not ever get that, and that’s OK, but he hasn’t figured out yet that your expectations can only rise from your achievements, and not from your desires.

On a core level, Kyle has great strength but hasn’t learned to harness it yet. He wants to choose his clubs based on his maximum distance with that club—if everything falls exactly into place. Like most golfers, and especially young ones,
he’s enamored with the power game. When we play, I show him that throttling back and controlling the shot is much more reliable.

What I discovered Sunday is that Kyle has very unrealistic expectations about what a round of golf should really be like. He, like most of us, expects all the shots to be struck solidly and fly like he imagined. So I explained that he hasn’t
earned the right to have such expectations yet. His scores average around 90-95 and his best ever is an 85.

So, here’s my point (finally)

Kyle was off to a good start with three pars and two bogeys in his first five holes. He kind of “fat-pulled” a 4-iron approach on a 200-plus yard par three. His shot left him only 10-15 yards short and left of the green, but he wheeled around, dropped his club and expressed his disgust with the shot. And I got on him about it. “What’s wrong with that? It’s a difficult par-3 with a 20 mph crosswind and you are in good position to get up and down or at least make no worse than bogey on one of the hardest holes on the course.”

I went on to explain that he was only two pars away from tying his best round ever, and if he just played for bogeys – and stay excited—he would probably make twice that many or more. And I seemed to get through to him of the reality
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So, here’s my point (or points) for managing your expectations, too.

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  2. If you play to a 12 or higher, any shot that keeps you in the game isn’t really all that bad.
  3. Regardless of your skill level, there is no such thing as a “birdie hole” when you are standing on the tee. A “birdie hole” can only be claimed when you have executed an approach to makeable putt range.
  4. If you are a 12-15 handicap player, you only need to make 3-6 pars to beat your handicap, as long as you don’t chop up any holes. Bogeys are good scores unless you regularly shoot in the 70s!

So, the next time you are on the golf course, try to set and manage realistic expectations. Your golf will be better for it, and you’ll have a ton more fun.

NOTE: I read a great article this morning by Geoff Ogilvy about the quality of golf being played on the PGA Tour. It reflects what I’ve often said about how the modern tour professional plays the game. Here it is.

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