Wednesday 21 November 2018

Class is permanent for Langer as old craftsmanship endures

Bernhard Langer. Photo: Reuters
Bernhard Langer. Photo: Reuters

Dermot Gilleece

You can imagine the scene some years from now. Pádraig Harrington is in one of his reflective moods, regaling his grandchildren about how he finally got to grips with the frightening 18th hole at Carnoustie, en route to his Open Championship triumph of 2007.

By way of proving that certain genes run true, one of the little ones is of an argumentative bent. "It can't have been that difficult, granddad," he protests.

"Wasn't Bernhard Langer as old as you are now, when he made a handy four there."

"Things were very different for Langer," granddad gently corrects. "But how could it be all that different when it was only 11 years later," the child persists. "Weren't the clubs and the ball and all the other things the same?"

Glorious

"Ah yes, but you wouldn't believe the difference in the weather," granddad went on to explain. "Twenty-eighteen was the most amazing summer we had ever experienced. Even the Irish Open was blessed with glorious sunshine."

Whatever legacy the German may eventually bequeath us, his achievements so far have been nothing short of astonishing. I can hardly credit first seeing him in action all of 40 years ago, when he burst onto the European scene in the Irish Open at Portmarnock in August 1978.

By way of celebrating his 21st birthday, he earned the equivalent of €1,575 for a share of eighth place behind Ken Brown, having been only a stroke off the lead after 54 holes. Three years later, in his fourth Open Championship, he had become good enough to claim second place at Royal St George's behind American Bill Rogers.

Now, he's at Carnoustie as reigning British Senior Open champion and it was clear that much of the old craftsmanship endures.

Despite the setback of bogeys on the 16th and 17th, he found the resolve to make an exemplary par down the 499-yard 18th, where a drive and five-iron were followed by two solidly-struck putts with his trusty broomhandle.

"Whatever I do, I want to do it well," he said after a 73 which was no fewer than nine strokes better than playing partner, Darren Clarke, and a stroke ahead of Retief Goosen, the other member of the three-ball. "If I don't have the enthusiasm to do it right, I won't do it at all."

He went on: "The 18th here has everything you would want from a finishing hole. It's always hard, no matter what."

The 60-year-old German retains fond memories of some special links experiences during the 1980s, at Royal Dublin, where he won the Irish Open in 1984, and at Portmarnock where he regained the title with a record aggregate of 269, three years later. "I liked both those courses very much, but I don't ever remember them playing as quick as this," he said.

Meanwhile, there is an irresistible appeal about connecting Langer and Harrington on this hallowed turf. By his own admission, the Dubliner modelled himself professionally on the two-time US Masters champion.

Which prompted Langer to respond: "I can see certain things in Pádraig that would be associated with me, like work ethic and discipline and things like that."

Chubby Chandler, who has been manager to several Irish players down the years, including Clarke, famously remarked of the German: "See old Bernie there. No sportsman ever squeezed so much out of his talent as he has."

For his many admirers, there is the good news that with appearances now numbering 31, Langer will continue to return to the Open, provided he's capable of meeting a key, self-imposed condition. "It's down to whether I can avoid making a fool of myself," he said simply.

We can picture him scanning the line of players on the practice ground, perhaps looking out for Harrington.

Irish Independent

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