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Opinion & Analysis

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.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. SK

    Nov 12, 2017 at 6:13 pm

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

  2. 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?

  3. 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. 😉

  4. 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.

  5. 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?

  6. 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″.

  7. Hale Irwin

    Nov 9, 2017 at 7:06 pm

    I’m the one shank

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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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Opinion & Analysis

Skateboarding legend Steve Caballero on why golf is cool (Bonus: must-watch golf trick)

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GolfWRX recently spent time in Los Angeles, California where we investigated skate culture, and why so many skateboarders are starting to play golf. There is much, much more content that we will release in the coming weeks from this journey, but we thought this was an interesting place to start.

Spear-headed by Bert Lamar of Iliac Golf, who grew up skateboarding and snowboarding (ever heard of Lamar Snowboards? that’s him), we spoke with skateboarding legends Steve Caballero and Tony Hawk about the golf-skateboarding relationship.

Steve spoke with Bert about his recent introduction into the world of golf, what’s drawing him in, and how skateboarding is similar to golf. Enjoy a transcription of that conversation below (edited for brevity), and check out our trick golf shot with him at the bottom of the story!

Fun fact: Steve Cab is the inspiration behind the Vans Half Cab shoe (“half-Cab” was a trick that he invented, and he also advised Vans to make a mid-height shoe that was given the same name).

Skating, music, art and… golf?

I’m traveling a lot around the world. Skating, I do a lot of artwork these days. So I’ve been traveling to Japan, and I’m going to France in two weeks, to ride motorcycles, skate, do art, play some music… I’m kind of all over the board when it comes to being creative, and just kind of expanding my capabilities and possibilities of things, and now golf has become a new challenge for me. My oldest brother used to play golf with my dad, and that’s something that they shared together, and my brother’s been trying to get me to play golf for probably around 10 years. And I’ve just always said “no, no, no, I’m too busy”… I ride dirt bikes, I mountain bike, I skate for a living. [I started playing golf] to please my brother. I was like, “you know what, ok”…. We went out and hit some balls, [at] the range, and I definitely got a feel for what it takes to hit the ball and try to focus on what you’re doing and it really, really struck me; it is very challenging, and it kind of reminds me of skating in little ways.

How is skateboarding similar to golf?

Just technique, body position, repetition. I know golf is a very difficult sport, and I just knew if I indulge myself into it… I like challenges so anything that I get into I’m gonna focus on and that’s all I’m gonna do; I’m gonna eat, breathe and sleep golf… I know that golf is a little bit more safer than skateboarding in terms of bodily injury and getting hurt; breaking a wrist or your leg or concussion.

What makes golf cool?

I think what makes golf cool is the fact that you need to put work in and just to be good at it. You have to put a lot of time and focus into it. And I think what it is, you have to have that personality of wanting to challenge yourself at something. It’s something you can do on your own, something you can do with a group. That’s kinda why it reminds me of skating because it’s kind of the same thing, like, one day I’ll be able to do an “air” three-feet out, the next day, I can’t even grab my board…

Are you a natural at golf?

It’s a thing where I get into arguments with my older brother; I don’t believe in natural talent, everything is learned.

So, how about that trick shot, huh?

Our own editor Andrew Tursky and legend Steve Caballero collaborated on a golf trick shot during the interview session. Actually, this only took a couple tries. It turns out Steve is a good putter when using the wheel of his skateboard.

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Podcasts

Gear Dive: Mizuno’s Chris Voshall speaks on Brooks Koepka’s U.S. Open-winning irons

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Mizuno’s Chief Engineer Chris Voshall speaks on how Brooks Koepka was the one that almost got away, and why Mizuno irons are still secretly the most popular on Tour. Also, a couple of Tiger/Rory nuggets that may surprise a few people. It’s an hour geek-out with one of the true gems in the club biz. Enjoy!

Related: Brooks Koepka’s Winning WITB from the 2018 U.S. Open

Listen to the full podcast below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Opinion & Analysis

Hear It, Feel It, Believe It: A Better Bunker Method

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The following is an excerpt from Mike Dowd‘s upcoming novel, “Coming Home.” 

After picking the last of the balls on the driving range, Tyler cornered Mack as he hit a few shots from the old practice bunker to wind down at the end of the day. Mack was hitting one after another, alternating between the three flags on the practice green and tossing them up about as softly as if he was actually lobbing them each up there underhanded.

Tyler just stood there, mesmerized at first by the mindless ease with which Mack executed the shot. Bunker shots, Tyler silently lamented, were likely the biggest hole in his game, and so after Mack had holed his third ball in a couple of dozen, Tyler finally decided he had to ask him a question.

“What are you thinking about on that shot, Mack?” Tyler interrupted him suddenly.

Mack hit one more that just lipped out of the closest hole, paused a few seconds, and then looked up at his protégé in what Tyler could only interpret as a look of confusion.

“What am I thinking about?” he finally replied. “I don’t know, Tyler… I’d hate to think how I’d be hittin’ ‘em if I actually started thinking.”

Tyler gave Mack a slightly exasperated look and put his hands on his hips as he shook his head. “You know what I mean. Your technique. I guess I should have said what exactly are you doing there from a mechanics standpoint? How do you get it to just land so softly and roll out without checking?”

Mack seemed to be genuinely considering Tyler’s more elaborately articulated question, and after a moment began, more slowly this time, as if he was simplifying his response for the benefit of a slightly thick-headed young student who wasn’t getting his point.

“You can’t think about technique, Tyler… at least not while you’re playing,” Mack replied. “There’s no quicker path back to your father’s garage than to start thinking while you’re swinging, especially thinking about technique. That’s my job.”

“Mack,” Tyler insisted, “How am I supposed to learn to hit that shot without understanding the technique? I’ve got to do something different than what I’m doing now. I’m putting too much spin on my shots, and I can’t always tell when it’s going to check and when it’s going to release a little. How do I fix that?”

“Well, not by thinking, certainly,” Mack fired right back as if it was the most ridiculous line of inquiry he’d ever heard. “A good bunker shot can be heard, Tyler, and felt, but you can’t do either of those if you’re focused on your technique. You feel it inside of you before you even think about actually hitting it. Watch, and listen.”

With that Mack swung down at the sand and made a thump sound as his club went through the soft upper layer of sand and bounced on the firmer sand below.

“You hear that?” Mack asked. “That’s what a good bunker shot sounds like. If you can hear it, then you can feel it. If you can feel it, then you can make it, but you can’t make that sound until you hear it first. Your body takes care o’ the rest. You don’t have to actually tell it what to do.”

Tyler still looked puzzled, but, knowing Mack as he did, this was the kind of explanation he knew he should have expected. Coach Pohl would have gone into an eight-part dissertation on grip, stance, club path, release points, weight transfer, and so forth, and Tyler suddenly realized how much he’d come to adopt his college coach’s way of thinking in the past four years. Mack though? He just said you’ve got to hear it.

“Get in here,” Mack said suddenly, gesturing to the bunker and offering the wedge to Tyler. “Now close your eyes.”

“What?!” Tyler almost protested.

“Just do it, will ya’?” Mack insisted.

“Okay, okay,” Tyler replied, humoring his coach.

“Can you hear it?” Mack asked.

“Hear what?” Tyler answered. “All I hear is you.”

“Hear that sound, that thump.” It was Mack’s turn to be exasperated now. “It was only moments ago when I made it for you. Can’t you still hear it?”

“Oh, remember it you mean,” Tyler said. “Okay, I know what you mean now. I remember it.”

“No, you obviously don’t know what I mean,” Mack replied. “I wanted to know if you can hear it, in your mind, hear the actual sound. Not remember that I’d made it. There’s a big difference.”

Tyler suddenly did feel kind of dumb. He wasn’t picking up what Mack was getting at, at least not exactly how he wanted him to get it, and so he sat there with his eyes closed and gripped the club like he was going to hit a shot, waggled it a bit as if he was getting ready, and then opened his eyes again.

“Okay,” he said suddenly. “I think I can hear it now.”

“Don’t open your eyes,” Mack almost hissed. “Now make it, make that sound. Make that thump.”

Tyler swung down sharply and buried the head of the wedge into the sand where it almost stopped before exiting.

“That’s not a thump,” Mack said shaking his head. “That’s a thud. You can’t even get the ball out with that pitiful effort. Give me that!”

He took the wedge back from Tyler and said, “Now watch and listen.”

Mack made a handful of swings at the sand, each one resulting in a soft thump as the club bottomed out and then deposited a handful of sand out of the bunker. Tyler watched each time as the head of the club came up sharply, went down again, hit the sand, and came back up abruptly in a slightly abbreviated elliptical arc. Each time Tyler listened to the sound, embedding it as he studied how the club entered and exited the sand. Mack stopped suddenly and handed the club back to Tyler.

“Now you make that sound,” he said, “and as you do remember how it feels in your hands, your forearms, your chest, and most importantly in your head.”

“What?” Tyler asked, looking back up at Mack, confused at his last comment.

“Just do it,” Mack said. “Hear it, feel it, then do it, but don’t do it before you can hear it and feel it. Now close your eyes.”

Tyler did as he was told, closing his eyes and then settling his feet in as he tried to picture in his mind what Mack had been doing. At first, he just stood there waggling the club until he could see the image in his mind of Mack hitting the sand repeatedly, and then he could hear the soft thump as the club hit the sand. He started to swing but was interrupted by Mack’s voice.

“Can you feel it?” Mack said. “Don’t go until you can feel it.”

“Well, at first I could see the image in my mind of you hitting that shot over and over again,” Tyler said, opening his eyes and looking at Mack, “and then I could hear it. It sort of followed right in behind it.”

“Ah, the image is a good starting point, but you can’t just see it and hear it, you need to feel it,” Mack replied, pointing to his head. “Feel it in here, and then you can feel it here,” he continued, putting his hands together like he was gripping a club. “Now close your eyes again.”

“Okay,” Tyler said, not sure he was getting it, but finally bought in. He settled in again and began waggling the club until he could see Mack swinging and hear the subtle thump of the sand. He let it just loop in his mind, over and over again, until suddenly he could feel it like he was the one doing it, and then he swung.

Thump came the sound as the flange of his wedge hit the sand. It was his swing, but it was different, maybe not to the naked eye, but in the speed, the level of tension, and the release. He opened his eyes again, almost tentatively, and looked at Mack with a combination of curiosity and amazement.

“I felt it that time,” Tyler said in a voice that seemed to resonate within from somewhere in the past. It almost sounded like Jackie’s in its exuberance.

“Yes… good,” Mack replied patiently. “Now close your eyes and do it again, but make sure you can feel it before you pull the trigger.”

Tyler settled in again, waited until, like the last time, he could see it, hear it, and then finally feel it… Thump… Something was slightly different this time, though, and Tyler opened his eyes to notice Mack kneeling down next to him. He had quietly deposited a ball into the place where Tyler had swung. Tyler looked up in the direction of the green and the target flag he had been aiming toward just in time to see a ball slow to a gentle stop about four inches from the flag.

“How’d you do that?” Tyler said, almost in wonder now.

“I didn’t,” Mack replied. “You did. You just had to stop thinking. See it, hear it, and feel it. Once you feel it, you can believe it. Anything more is more than we need. Any questions?”

As Mack turned to walk up out of the bunker, Tyler just stood there shaking his head a moment, looking at the spot in the sand, and then back up at the green as if to confirm the ball he’d seen roll to stop was still there. “I guess I’ve still got a lot to learn.”

“Well… yes and no,” Mack said cryptically as he turned back to look at him. “You pretty much know how to hit all the shots, Tyler. You’ve hit every one of them at one time or another. You’ve just got to learn how to empty your head of all those instructions so you can focus on finding the shot you need when you need it. It’s in there somewhere.”

“It’s hard to explain,” Tyler said, “but a lot of times I walk up and think I somehow just instinctively know what shot to hit without even thinking about it. I just kind of see it and feel it. It’s when I start to analyze things a bit more closely, factoring in all the things I know are important to consider like the wind, keeping away from the short side, where I want to putt from, and the best trajectory or shot shape for the situation, that I often start to second guess that feeling.”

“Ever heard the saying paralysis from analysis?” Mack asked. “It pretty much describes those moments.”

“Yeah, I get it,” Tyler replied, “but all that information is important. You have to consider everything and not just make a rash decision.”

“Sure, information is important, but you can’t get lost in it,” Mack countered. “Whether it’s golf, or just about anything else in life, Tyler, you need to learn to trust your gut. You’ve hit hundreds of thousands of shots in your life, Tyler. All those shots leave a mark. They leave an indelible little mark that gets filed away in your brain subconsciously, getting stacked one on top of the other. And after years of playing the game, those stacks and stacks of shots create an instinctive reaction to each situation. It’s like gravity. It pulls you in a certain direction so much that most of the time you almost know what club you should hit before you even know the yardage. Trust that, Tyler. Go with it, and know that first instinct comes from experience. There’s more wisdom in those gut reactions than just about anything else.”

“Thank you,” Tyler said after considering it a moment. “I think that’ll really help.”

“You’re welcome,” Mack replied. “Now rake that bunker for me and clean the balls off the green. I want to get things closed up before dark.”

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