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.
On Spec: I fell in love at Sweetens Cove | Finding your golf “community”
In this episode of On Spec, Ryan can’t say enough great things about his first trip to Sweetens Cove for the first Oil Hardened Classic—an event dedicated to persimmon and blade irons. He also talks about a new group of golf buddies in the era of social media.
Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below.
It started with a crazy idea…
It’s been nearly six years since Bob Parsons decided he wanted to get into the golf club business, and it was five years ago that Ryan Moore was presented with an iron that looked like something out of a Frankenstein movie.
Since then, the name PXG has been growing in stature as quickly as this industry has seen in a long time. In my time with Tour Ops Director Matt Rollins, I discovered once again that there was a point for all of these department heads, where the ability to work in a vacuum with no boundaries peaked enough curiosity to leave great jobs and take a winger on a man’s idea that at inception may have sounded a bit crazy.
Now let’s be clear, Bob Parsons knows golf clubs. Like many on this site, he’s a gear junkie—yes, with unlimited resources to find exactly what he wants. However, being a gear junkie myself, I always wondered what it would look like if I had the resources to go as far down the rabbit hole as I wanted to without risking the roof over my head AND without the mandate of a company to limit my search. This is important to understand because as you may have seen in the last video, the people Mr. Parsons chooses to work with seem to have this unrelenting curiosity as well.
The tour operations started this way: Ryan Moore was the perfect guy to attract early on. He’s a searcher, he has the resume to gain trust, and he’s extremely measured. Ryan doesn’t do anything on a whim, although it may appear so. He considers everything down to the last point before he says yes. I can say this in confidence knowing his story and interacting with him a few times. I have interacted with a good portion of the early PXG staff and to a person they have all said the same thing: “It seemed a bit crazy at the time, but I was curious: I hit the clubs and I wanted in.”
The current staff like the front office is a good mix of all personalities and as a whole they represent the perfect mix to get the PXG message out into the world. Players like Horschel, Perez, Ko, Hahn, Lee, ZJ, Moore, HOF icon Gary Player, and most recently aspiring LPGA player, long drive champion and influencer Troy Mullins.
Now, I won’t get into all of the club junkie tidbits I get from Matt here: ya just gotta watch the video. It was a fun interview and my biggest takeaway personally is that despite all of the opinions and polarizing discussions around PXG, these guys really care about what they are doing and where they want to go.
As you will see in Episode 6 of The Disruptors, Matt Rollins at first had a kind of “yeah right” reaction to the whole thing—then you start to get around Bob, and Mike and Brad and you begin to understand just how serious these guys are about taking PXG to places we have never seen. Are they one of the Big 4? No. They never will be—it’s not designed that way. Are they a company that has the nimbleness, brains, and swagger to continue to shake things up? Oh, yeah. And that’s exactly how Bob likes it.
PGA Tour players on the rise and on the decline heading into 2020
At the end of each season, I compile data on every PGA Tour player and then analyze which players are on the rise and the decline for the upcoming season. There are a number of variables that are historically quality indicators of a golfer’s future performance such as age, club speed, adjusted scoring average, etc. I tend to focus on what I call The Cornerstones of the Game, however, and these Cornerstones include:
- Driving effectiveness
- Red zone play (approach shots from 175-225 yards)
- Short game shots (from 10-20 yards)
- Putting (5-15 feet)
- Ball speed
All that is needed to execute the Cornerstones of the Game is for the player to be in the top half on the PGA Tour in each metric. That’s the beauty of the concept; a player does not need to be dominant in each metric. He can simply be average at each metric and it increases his likelihood of not only having a great season but recording a PGA Tour victory. I can then use the Cornerstones concept to more accurately project players on the rise for the following season.
This past season, there were 10 players that reached The 5 Cornerstones of the Game and they made an average of $4.7 million on the season. Given their success, I focused my analysis more on players that narrowly missed The 5 Cornerstones and their metrics to determine what players will be “on the rise.”
Players on the rise
*The following rankings are based out of 194 players
The young Chilean golfer reached every one of The 5 Cornerstones of the Game, but he made the least amount of FedEx points of any of the golfers that executed all of the Cornerstones.
This was due to Niemann’s early struggles with the putter. However, his putting improved significantly as the season went by.
The dotted black line in the chart represents Niemann’s trendline and that shows a strong upward trend in his putting performance.
Niemann ranked 107th in adjusted par-5 scoring average, and given his quality of ballstriking and distance off the tee, that should greatly improve. The projections are for him to win soon. If he can continue to improve his putting, particularly from 3-5 feet (he ranked 160th last season) he could be a multiple winner this upcoming season.
Kang recorded his first victory at the Byron Nelson Championship but flew under the radar for most of the season. He also executed The 5 Cornerstones of the Game.
Back in 2017, Kang almost executed The 5 Cornerstones, but I was lukewarm to putting him on the list of Players on the Rise as the one cornerstone he failed to reach was red zone play, and that’s too important of a metric to miss out on.
Kang struggled in the 2018 season, but his red zone play greatly improved. In the meantime, his driving greatly suffered. He continued to struggle with his driving early in the 2019 season but made great strides right around the Byron Nelson and ended the season ranked 80th in driving effectiveness. Meanwhile, his red zone play has continued to be strong, and he’s a sound short game performer from 10-20 yards and putter from 5-15 feet.
While I am a little more on the fence with Kang, given his putrid performance from the yellow zone and generally inconsistent play, his putting suffered from ranking 181st on putts from 25-plus feet. That is more likely to move towards the mean and greatly improve his putts gained next season. He’s also 32 years old, which is a prime age for Tour players hit their peak performance of their career.
Straka had a good rookie campaign striking the ball and was a competent putter. The only Cornerstone that Straka failed to execute was short game shots from 10-20 yards. However, we can see that as the season went by Straka’s short game improved
That’s also recognizing that short game around the green has a weaker correlation to success on Tour than most of the other Cornerstones like driving, red zone play and putting from 5-15 feet.
Straka should improve greatly on par-5’s (104th last season). He made a lot of birdies last year (25th in adjusted birdie rate), but made a ton of bogeys (155th). These numbers project well at tournaments that are birdie fests like Palm Springs or courses that are relatively easy on shots around the green such as Harbour Town.
Ryder only missed The 5 Cornerstones with a poor performance from 10-20 yards. He’s an excellent putter and iron-play performer, and that is usually the parts of the game that the eventual winners perform best from.
One of the new metrics I’ve created is called “power-to-putting.” This is a combination of the player’s putts gained ranking and their adjusted driving distance ranking. Earlier this year I wrote an article here about where exactly distance helps with a golfer’s game. In essence, the longer off the tee a golfer is the more likely they will have shorter length birdie putts on average. That’s why long hitters like Bubba Watson can make a lot of money despite putting poorly and why shorter hitters like Brian Gay have to putt well in order to be successful.
The “honey pot” is for a golfer that hits it long and putts well. This means they will sink a ton of birdie putts because they are having easier putts to make and they have the requisite putting skill to make them.
Clark finished first in power-to-putting (Rory McIlroy finished second). On top of that, he was an excellent performer from 10-20 yards which is usually the last step in a long ball hitter becoming an elite performer. Clark’s iron play was very poor and that downgrades his chances of winning on Tour. But, with his length, putting, and short game, he can very well get four days of decent approach shot play and win handily.
Players on the decline
Hoffman ranked 64th in FedEx points but was 139th in adjusted scoring average. Most of Hoffman’s metrics were not very good, but he was a superb performer from the yellow and red zone. The other concerning part of Hoffman is his age: He is at the point of his career that player performance tends to drop-off the most. He only made two of his last seven cuts this past season with the best finish of T51 at The Open Championship.
Holmes finished 166th in adjusted scoring average and was greatly helped by having a favorable schedule as he ranked 21st in purse size per event. The best thing Holmes has going for him is his distance off the tee. He also had a good season around the green that helps long hitters like Holmes when they hit foul balls off the tee.
After that, Holmes did not do much of anything well. He was 179th in adjusted missed fairway–other percentage (aka hitting foul balls off the tee) and his putting was horrendous and doesn’t appear to be bouncing back anytime soon.
Kizzire only made two of his last 11 cuts last season, and it’s easy to see why with his ballstriking struggles. It also doesn’t help that he was poor from 10-20 yards. He’s one of the elite putters on Tour, but elite putting only helps a player so much in the big leagues.
The biggest positive for Mickelson is his newfound power that he exhibited last year. He will also play a favorable schedule as he ranked 16th in purse size per event and has lifetime exempt status on Tour.
For fantasy golf owners, I would be averse to picking Mickelson in the short term. The question with Lefty is if his newfound distance caused him issues with his iron play, short game and putting, or if that is just a temporary slump that once he works thru those issues with his newfound speed, he may be winning tournaments again. But at his age, history is not in his favor.
Molinari turns 37-years-old in November. There’s still plenty of years for good golf, but Molnari’s lack of power and routine struggles with the putter means that he needs to have impeccable driving and iron play in order to be competitive in big tournaments and the majors. Last season he was an average driver of the ball and he was below average from the red zone.
The positive for Molinari is that he has typically been an impeccable ballstriker, so the issues in 2019 may have been a one-time slump. And while he putted poorly, he putted well from 5-15 feet. He ranked 184th on putts from 15-25 feet and 157th on putts from 25-plus feet, and those are more likely to progress towards the mean over time and help his overall putting.
But, Molinari has never been a great putter, and at his age, it will be very difficult to keep up with his impeccable ballstriking to get back to the winner’s circle.
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