12 July 2021: Bernhard Langer did not win The Open at Royal St. George’s but he really could have done; perhaps he really should have done.
In 1981 Langer played in The Open for the fourth time, and aged 23, he finished second behind American Bill Rogers at Sandwich. The Open returned to the Kent coast just four years later and this time the German star – who was reigning Masters champion this time – held a share of the third-round lead yet finished third behind Sandy Lyle. Then in 1993 Langer was in contention yet again at Royal St. George’s. This time he shot a final round of 67, five under par, which would often have been good enough to win, but his playing partner that day, Greg Norman, famously shot an amazing 64 to take the Claret Jug.
“The Open means a great deal to me,” reflects Langer, now 63 and an ambassador for Mercedes-Benz. “My memories from Royal St. George’s are bitter-sweet. I have done well here, but just not well enough. I have never got that win.”
An accurate driver of the golf ball and a great irons player, often in Langer’s prime years his putting would either run hot or cold.
“I struggled several times with the yips,” says Langer, “when I lost confidence in my putting and then you lose control over the putter. If I hadn’t suffered the yips I probably would have won several more majors, and maybe two or three Opens. I was unusual in that I was sometimes one of the best putters and sometimes one of the worst, and many times I was in between.”
1981 was a breakthrough season that saw Langer win the European Tour’s Order of Merit for the first time, yet The Open that year was Langer’s first time in contention in a major. American Rogers carved a five-shot lead after three rounds, and while Langer got to within a shot of the lead early on the final day, Rogers slipped into overdrive on the back nine to ease away and win by four.
The Open in 1985 was there for the taking. Langer shared the third-round lead with David Graham but Langer’s putter ran cold in the fourth round.
“I missed a short putt on the first hole and that kind of shook me a little bit, disturbed my confidence level and then I did not putt well for the rest of the day,” admits Langer, who posted a 75 in the final round. “I hung in there and then I had to make a birdie on the last hole to tie Sandy Lyle.”
Langer had to hole a chip on 18 to take Lyle to a play-off.
“The atmosphere was electric,” he says. “We were the last group so everyone gathered around the green and the huge grandstands were full. All eyes were on me because a birdie would have forced the playoff. I knew that I had to make that chip. I hit a good chip and it went over the edge of the cup. It came close but not close enough. To play in that atmosphere is what we practise and play for; those situations in an arena like that.
“Ultimately, that was one of the most disappointing days in my career. I know that if I had played a little better I could have won.”
The Open of 1993 was a very different circumstance again. Langer went into the final round tied with Norman in second place, one shot behind Nick Faldo and Corey Pavin. This time Langer played an excellent final round, shooting 67, but to no avail, as his playing partner Norman played one of the greatest final rounds in majors history, shooting 64 to win by two, with Langer a shot behind Faldo in third.
“Norman played one of the best rounds of golf I have ever witnessed,” admits Langer, who has finished in The Open’s top-three on six occasions. “He hit a lot of great shots and never put himself in a bad position. It was nearly a perfect round of golf and he deserved to win. Sometimes you play really good golf but someone else plays better; that’s golf.”
Langer is not complaining. He has won the Masters twice. Since turning 50 he has collected 11 senior major titles, including four victories in the Senior Open. He has won more that 100 tour titles and has a place in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Langer won the Masters twice but never clinched The Open. Norman won The Open twice but never won the Masters. How about a friendly swap?
With a laugh, Langer concedes: “I am sure we would both make that trade with each other; a green jacket for a Claret Jug.”