Bernhard Langer joined Lunch with a Legend
June 25, 2020
By Staff, PGATOUR.COM
- June 25, 2020
Bernhard Langer joins Lunch with a Legend
Fresh off making the cut on the PGA TOUR at the RBC Heritage, Bernhard Langer was back home in Florida and joined the Lunch with a Legend Instagram series on Wednesday. He answered fan questions and discussed major milestones during his career.
Towards the end of the interview, which took place in his home office, he gave fans a tour of his office, which includes both Masters trophies, memorabilia from the Ryder Cup and he also showed his newly acquired Conquistador Helmet, for winning the 2020 Cologuard Classic, his 41st career PGA TOUR Champions win.
Below is a transcript, edited for clarity, of some of the questions and answers.
Let's start with last week. There was so much respect in the golf world for what you did (making the cut at the RBC Heritage). Year after year, still being able to compete with the young guys at the age of 62, do you ever give yourself an opportunity to think about that?
Yeah, absolutely. We all set goals and at my age, you wonder how much longer it’s going to last. I'm realistic and I know the clock is ticking. I'm almost 63 now. I don't have a whole lot of time left. This might have been my last stint on the PGA TOUR.
I was thinking those two courses, Colonial (Country Club) and Harbour Town (Golf Links), would actually lend themselves for me to still get into contention. They've lengthened both courses, which are still maybe a little shorter on average, but they're much longer than what they were 13 years ago. They've added new tees on maybe five to 12 different holes, depending on the golf course. I mean, Harbour Town, the 18th hole is like 477 yards. Something like that. In the practice round, it was into the wind and I couldn't even reach it with driver-3-wood.
It's a different game nowadays. It's a power game. But it was fun being out there with the young guys and just competing.
What's the most difficult course that you've played in your career?
The U.S. Open set ups were always tough because they take a fair and difficult course and then make it almost impossible. They've gotten a little better, I think, the last few years. But there were years in the '80s and '90s where, a really good golf course was just almost butchered. I don't want to use that word, but I can't say it any other way. The fairways were very narrow. Rough was very high. The greens were firm. The pin placements were extremely difficult to impossible.
The other was a course in Morocco in Rabat. I was a young pro and we played (Royal Golf Dar Es Salam) at The King Hassan II Trophy event. It was one of the hardest (courses) I've ever been to. That was a long time ago when we were hitting persimmon woods and steel shafts. A lot of balls. All that kind of stuff.
How did you get started in golf?
It was a very unlikely scenario. I grew up in a village with 800 people in Bavaria, out in the boondocks, basically. There was one golf course five miles away, the only course within 100 or so miles.
My brother started to caddie to earn some money and when he came home with a few Deutschemarks (now Euros) in his pocket, I got really excited. We came from a poor family, never had a whole lot, so I said, "I want to caddie, I want to earn money."
I was only about nine years old. So I eventually got on my bicycle and he took me along and introduced me to the local pro. I was very fortunate, my very first bag was the club champion. I was fascinated with how well he played. He was a 2-handicap, a nice guy and we hit it off, so he said, "You're going to be my regular caddie from now on whenever I show up, you've got to take my bag." That was fun.
I enjoyed making money. As a nine-year-old, to have a little bit of your own money, that was pretty cool. But golf was nowhere on the scene of sports in Germany. We probably had a total of 80 to 100 golf courses at the time, and they were all private clubs. Very few players. So that's how I got into it. They allowed us as caddies, when there were no members, to chip and putt and go on the driving range and hit balls. It was a small club and I would go there after school or weekends early in the morning, when nobody was there. I would take two or three balls and hit three 3-irons to get from one end of the range to the other.
The other funny thing is we were given four clubs. We couldn't afford buying golf clubs, the caddies. A member discarded a 2-wood, a 3-iron, a 7-iron and a putter, we didn't have any wedges. Those were our four clubs. And there were about eight caddies who shared those four clubs. So that's how it all started. I played soccer and golf and many other things. But eventually my mother said to me, "You've got to choose. You can't do all these things all at once." So I chose golf. It was a good decision (laughs).
Would you attribute your strong work ethic to your humble beginnings?
Yes, as I said I grew up in a poor family. My father was a bricklayer, but he didn't have his own company. He was just working for somebody. And I saw how hard he worked, how hard my mother worked just to put food on the table and have a very humble home and provide for their three kids. That was a great eye opener for me. Work was never an issue. I was taught to always give it 100 percent. No matter what you do, if you do the dishes, you clean them 100 percent. If you take the trash out, you take all of it and do it right. And if you bring wood to put in the oven, you don't bring in a little bit, you bring in the whole lot. I had seen that for many years as displayed by my mother and father. It was ingrained in me.
The other thing is I wanted a better life than what they had, working 12 to 16 hours a day just to make ends meet. I was hoping to do a little bit better and provide for my family in a better way.
Who are your idols in the game of golf? In our caddie shack, back when I was between nine to fifteen years old, there was a swing sequence of Jack Nicklaus. I mean, you have to go back and put yourself in Germany where golf was not on TV. We had one golf magazine, I think, but we couldn't afford to have it. So some of the members had it. Anyway, somebody gave us this swing sequence of Jack Nicklaus and put it up on the wall in the caddie shack. So that's what we looked at, which was probably a very good thing because Jack had a great swing. Still does. Later on, when I was about 18, I met Gary Player in person in a practice round at The Open Championship, I think it was at Royal Birkdale. We played a practice round together and I really enjoyed talking with him, getting to know more about him. So Gary Player in the end became my golfing idol. And he's a wonderful person, great ambassador for golf, has won just about anything you can win. Has played all over the world, just like I have.
He's my size, short and slim, had to swing a little flatter, like most of us short guys do.
Gary was my idol and we've become close friends in the years to come since we both have won the Masters and get to see each other every year at the past champions dinner, share some stories. We both represent Berenberg Bank, so we have a few things in common. It's been a great run over the years.
Any great stories or things you can you can share about your time playing at Augusta National?
Well, there always is. There's many stories. For instance, we were taking part in the past champions dinner and I don't remember the year, but as usual, it's the chairman and all of the champions at a big table. The chairman says a few words, "Gentleman, the course is in incredible shape, as always. I think everything is perfect for you guys to display your skills and show to the world what you can do." Then he made a final remark, "Are there any comments, anything we could do better?"
And I think it was Arnold Palmer who got up and said, "Mr. Chairman, we noticed half of the fairway is mowed away from us and the other half is mowed into us. If you hit on the right half where it's mowed away from you, the ball runs 40 yards. It you hit into the grain on that part, just a couple of feet left, it stops within five or 10 yards. And it's not totally fair. We're good players, but we're not that good that we can always hit the shiny part, you know?" So the chairman made a note and said, "I think we can fix that."
A day later, everything was mowed into us. They line up ten or twelve mowers on the green and they're mowed towards the tee. So when you hit your tee shot, the grass always grows into you and the course plays a lot longer.
Can you tell us about greeting Tiger Woods after his memorable Masters win last year?
I was up in the past champions locker room upstairs and we were all watching the last few holes as we're trying to shower and change. There were six or seven champions up there and I think it was Zach Johnson who said, "You know, we should just put our green jackets on and go down and stand where he comes in to sign his scorecard and wish him the best." So we got the jackets out of our locker, ran down the stairs, basically, and stood in line with all the other people. It's quite a walk from 18 green to the clubhouse, where you sign your scorecard now. I was maybe the last guy that was able to shake his hand and say, "Hey, great job Tiger, was incredible. You just made history and proud to have you back."
I was very fortunate to be an eyewitness to both his victory and also to Jack's sixth Masters victory in 1986. I was able to present Jack with his green jacket that year, so I will never forget those two moments in my life.
Do you have any tips for someone just getting started in the game of golf?
Very much so. I was a teacher for three and a half years, and I'm very much interested in the golf swing and how it developed. And, you know, I've talked to some of the greatest swing coaches that are alive or may not be alive anymore, like Tim Slate, for instance.
So I feel I know a little bit about it, but for a beginner, I would say really pay attention to the fundamentals. Most importantly, the grip. If you don't have a proper grip, if you don't hold the club correctly, you're going to have a very hard time manipulating it throughout the swing. Secondly, you know, the address position is vital. I sometimes try to explain it this way. If you had a shot gun in your hand and you want to hit the target.
Where do you aim the shotgun? At the target, right? If you don't, you're going to miss. And it's somewhat similar in golf. So focus on the fundamentals. Everything else will be easier. You will enjoy the game more.
Has there been a defining moment in your career?
Every win, every step forward is important. My first win as a pro was extremely important. It made me believe I can do this and I can make a living playing the game. I would say winning the Masters was huge because it gave me a 10-year exemption. I didn't have to worry year after year whether I'm going to be exempt or not. When you're a husband and a dad, those things are important. You want to have job security and know there's some money coming in.
Can you tell us how you came together with your longtime caddie, Terry Holt?
I remember it vividly. I was 49 years old. I had a caddie from London for 23 years, Peter Coleman. Kicking off the season in 2006, I'm playing the Bob Hope Classic in the desert and a friend of mine from Florida was caddying for me just for one week. This was my first tournament of the year and as I'm registering, I run into Terry Holt. I had known Terry for a long time, he never caddied for me ,but we've been around each other for 31 years. So I said, "Terry, I'm looking for a professional caddie. I'm looking for two or three things. First of all, I want him to be a believer in Christ, the Christian. I want him to be a hard worker, somebody that's reliable and somebody that's easy to get along with. If you know anybody, here's my number. Let me know." And he thought for about four or five seconds and said, "Well, what about me?" so I said, "Well, yeah what about you? You don't have a regular job?" I told him I'm not going to play on the PGA TOUR much longer.
He said, "I would love to caddie for you." And I said, "Well, let's try it for three weeks or so and see if we get along." He's maybe the hardest working caddie I've ever known. He often arrives a day or two before I get there and is already prepared. It's been a great partnership and we're not just on the course friends. We're good friends off the course as well.