Langer: “It’s very, very difficult for me to win now.”
Two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer is one of several current Champions Tour players teeing up at Augusta National on Thursday, and I had the chance to interview the 2002 Hall of Fame inductee for a future Golf Magazine piece at the posh Mercedes-Benz hospitality suite along Augusta's first fairway.
At 55, Langer is playing some of the best golf of his career, and is easily the most dominant player on the Champions Tour with 17 wins in five seasons. Is a run at a third green jacket really so unthinkable? Apparently so. Langer hasn't made the cut at Augusta since 2005, and concedes that his recent Masters appearances have become more about enjoying the experience than winning the tournament.
“I think it's very, very difficult for me to win now, ever since they lengthened the golf course,” Langer said. “I've gotten a little shorter and the golf course has gotten longer.”
Indeed, the days of hitting short iron approaches on Augusta's par 4s are long gone, even for a guy who averages 280 yards off the tee. “When they lengthened the course, they said they were trying to restore the course to where it was years ago, and they went a bit overboard,” Langer said.
The course's length isn't the only obstacle today's players need to overcome. Langer also recounted a fun story about how a Champions dinner conversation with Augusta's chairman resulted in a new fairway mowing policy.
“Years ago, they would mow some of the fairway away from us and some into us,” Langer said, “and when you land the ball in some places it skids and runs 40 or 50 yards, whereas when you land into the grain, it stops. And I remember this because I played then, and at one of the past Champions dinners, the Chairman said, ‘gentlemen, is there anything we can improve, or anything we can do better?' And I think it was Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer who got up and said, ‘well I have one point I'd like to raise. We've noticed that half the fairways are mowed this way and half this way, and it's the middle of the fairway, so if you land it a foot over here, you get fifty yards of run, and if you land a foot over here you get five yards of run. That's not fair.' And the chairman said, ‘good point. We can fix that.'
And then soon they mowed everything into us, so now, it's not just the course's length, but it actually plays a lot longer because the ball doesn't run like it used to. And it makes it tougher because if the grass is standing into you and I'm hitting an iron, if I just catch it a little fat, the grass stands up and gets in between the ball and the clubface and you'll get flyers with less spin, so you don't have the backspin and you don't have the distance control, so it changed a lot about this golf course when that happened. It makes a huge difference to hit an 8-iron into these greens or a 5-iron. A huge difference, people have no idea. An 8-iron stops but a 5-iron just doesn't.”