An Interview With:
GORDON SIMPSON: Thanks for coming in. I know it has been a long practice round, about 5 1/2 hours without a toilet stop. I know you were saying you thought last week was long, but this is playing very long so it's going to be a tough week.
BERNARD LANGER: It really suits the long hitters, guys who can bomb it off the tee and can hit it on to the greens.
The course is playing be very long at the moment, very soft fairways. For me, it is just a lot of long irons even the odd fairway wood here and there. The greens are very severe, too. They might show up as being 26 to 30 yards long but, many times, the first five, eight yards are sloping so bad, the ball would not stop there. So you have to carry eight or ten yards to the green, so that leaves you only 10 or 12 to stop; at times 15, which is not easy but come in with long irons.
GORDON SIMPSON: How is the game at the moment? It was a big win a few weeks ago at Holland, a very important one, as well.
BERNARD LANGER: Yeah, I've had some very good weeks this year in general. Had two or three chances to win over here early in the year and went to Europe and had a good stretch there. Finish, had to withdraw from Loch Lomond, third at the British and first in the Holland. That was a good stretch there.
Game is pretty good. Not much wrong, actually. Played pretty decent last week. Made two big mistakes on two par 3s, I mis-clubbed and hit it short in the water for a double-bogey. And another was a bad shot for a double-bogey, with 4- and 5-irons. And 3-putted 17, thinking I had to make birdie and I went for it on Friday. I thought the cut was going to be even par. And I was 1-over at the time and so I went for a downhill putt and ripped it six feet by after lipping out and missed the return. Ending up missing the cut by one.
So not too much wrong with the game. Not much went right last week.
Q. When was the last time you were here, '86 or something?
BERNARD LANGER: I can't remember. It's been quite a while. It always clashed with the German Open or some tournament in Germany and I always opted for the German one. So, I hadn't been here for a while.
Q. How much has the course changed from what you remember, 15 years ago?
BERNARD LANGER: I always remembered it being fairly long and fairly tough. But it seems I don't know what changes they have made. The greens are fast and slopey and they must have added some distance to some of the holes, I would think, in the last 15 years, anyways.
Q. Did you see the finish of the PGA?
BERNARD LANGER: Yeah, I saw most of it, or some of it.
Q. Just wanted to get your impression on David Toms laying up. Obviously, it was the right thing to do?
BERNARD LANGER: Yeah, I wonder what you guys would have written up if he had laid up and lost the tournament. (Laughs).
No, I mean it was a very gutsy lay-up. That's all that I can say. Looking back, he did the right thing. He felt there was more of a chance of him making a 4 and laying up than hitting long, maybe in the back rough or back bunker; if he hits in the water, he brings 6 into the equation. With a lay-up he took 6 out of the equation, I felt and I brought 4 and 5 in.
Obviously, it would have been interesting to see what he had done if Mickelson would have hit his shot first into the green, you know, fairly close because then it might have been even a harder decision; it was already hard, because you could see him pulling the 5-wood out, putting it back in, pulling it out again, and it was -- obviously, it's a very, very tough shot off that kind of lie.
But he did the right thing.
Q. What do you think David will bring to the American Ryder Cup side?
BERNARD LANGER: Well, he looks like a very, very solid player the last two or three years. I think he's become an extremely, extremely solid ball-striker. He's a very, very good but putter. He doesn't seem to have any real weakness as such. Maybe bunker shots, if you go by statistics. But I don't believe in statistics too much anyways. So, I think he's a great asset to the team.
Q. What are your impressions of their 12?
BERNARD LANGER: I think they have a very, very strong team on paper. They always do, though. Every two years we come around to that, the American team generally looks much stronger on paper than the European team. They have the top -- at the moment, if you go by World Rankings, their team is much higher ranked than our team.
But, you know, it's not all by rankings and this and that. It's match play. It's a lot of pressure, playing for your country. You are playing for your country; you are not playing for yourself. It is a different kettle of fish. 18 holes, anybody can win a match on 18 holes sort of.
Q. On the upside, how would you assess the makeup of the European side as it seems to be?
BERNARD LANGER: I like the makeup of our team. I think we have a good mix of experience and some new guys in there. We have a good mix of guys who are -- some of long and some are medium hitters, but very steady players.
I mean, there's one or two guys you might like to see in there, but, you know, it just shows that European golf has grown in depth, too. It used to be where we had six good players and then we were struggling to make up the spots. That's not happening anymore. You can take any of the Top-20 or 30 players and put them in there and they would all do well.
Q. Do you think we might be struggling a little bit?
BERNARD LANGER: Yeah, you could say one or two guys at the moment, but we still have six weeks ago and things could change very rapidly.
Q. You've contributed to the lore of the Ryder Cup, but how much did you follow the history of it growing up, if at all?
BERNARD LANGER: I don't feel if much at all. I didn't follow it much at all because in Germany, you didn't see the news. It wasn't on. Golf on TV was not heard of. Had to scramble to get a magazine, golf magazine, when I was young, anyways. Things have changed since then obviously.
Since I became a player on the Ryder Cup, I obviously showed more interest for it and it's become a very exciting event, a very important event. But I guess your question was, when I was 10 years old or 15, and, you know, there wasn't a whole lot heard about it.
We were not included, anyway. The Continentals were not included. It was just Great Britain and Ireland against America, and so it didn't seem to concern us all that much.
Q. What are your memories of the '85 event in terms of the magnitude of the final day, being out there in that arena and when Sam finally clinched it? What do you remember, that sort of euphoria between your team and the spectators that was presented?
BERNARD LANGER: Well, it's been like many other Ryder Cups. It's always been a great atmosphere where the people are really getting into it. They are really getting into the Ryder Cup than other tournaments. They are very much for and against. They are not just cheering for good shots. You can tell the one team and against the other team, which in a way has gone too far sometimes.
I think it's not good in golf because we are not used to it. Usually, you go to any tournament and the good shot gets cheered for and a bad one they just keep quiet, or there's some kind of noise which let's you know it wasn't very good. But when you hear cheers when someone hits it in the water or misses a short putt, I don't like to see that kind of stuff, but it's been happening in the Ryder Cup, and only in the Ryder Cup as far as I know.
Q. Is that where you first noticed it in those particular matches, the '85 Matches?
BERNARD LANGER: Yeah, around in the mid 80's. I think that's what it started. It seems like that's when the Ryder Cup became more and more important, especially to the Americans. I think it was always a very important match for the Europeans, but I think it really grew over here once they started losing because they are not used to losing. They don't like losing. America is all about winning and winners. And all of a sudden, they lost a couple and the Ryder Cup became bigger and bigger because they weren't used to it.
Q. Last week at the PGA they were talking about the golf ball going a million miles and it's been 15 years since you played here last. Give us an idea of the technology differences playing today as opposed to 15 years ago -- because you said the course is playing long today?
BERNARD LANGER: Well, I don't think the course was as long then. I think they added some yardage. I'm pretty sure they did. Maybe I'm wrong, I don't know.
Q. What about the technology though?
BERNARD LANGER: The technology has definitely come a long way. 15 years ago everybody was using Persimmon heads with steel shafts pretty much. The ball wasn't as good. The clubs were shorter. We were playing 43-, 44-inch clubs and now they have 45, 46. The material has become lighter. Most of them use graphite and everybody is using steel heads, titanium this -- therefore, you can make a longer shot and create more clubhead speed. The ball is certainly becoming much better. It goes further. Guys have more options of golf balls now. They used to be sort of two, three different kinds and we all used to play the long wound balls and now we play the two- and three-piece balls and they spin less. So the high-ball hitters and can go to a 6-degree driver, which you could never do with a Persimmon club. The lowest I ever heard of a Persimmon was 8 or 9 degrees and now they are using 6 or 7 degrees and the ball goes straight up in the air and carries 300 yards. You can accommodate any swing, any player out there. He can find the perfect equipment for him to get the maximum distance out of his trajectory and his swing and his ball flight, basically.
Q. Do you ever see them possibly going back to a toned-down golf ball? Is that a possibility?
BERNARD LANGER: I don't know. It would be tough for the manufacturers, for the business.
Q. Just for tournament players?
BERNARD LANGER: Well, I know, but people want to play what we play with. That's where the market drive is. So it will be very difficult to do that.
Q. In the years that you were not coming here, were you hearing anything about this tournament or this place that sort of made you think about it harder and harder each time or pretty easy decision?
BERNARD LANGER: Easy decision not to come here?
Q. Not to come.
BERNARD LANGER: No. It was always a very tough decision. I always wanted to come, but you've got to understand, being the -- for many years, the only German on the international scene when I stay away from the two or three German events, it really is not very good for those tournaments. So, I felt an obligation to be there. I've been wanting to come back there for many reasons. One of them was my first -- I believe my first American event was here in 1982. I won the Money List in '81 Europe and got invited to the World Series of Golf, I think it was. I'll never forget it. That was my first event here and after three days I was co-leader -- and I was teeing off on Sunday, I think it was, being co-leader, and it was my birthday, as well, so people were singing happy birthday after I teed off. It was a great experience.
Q. Is that still one of your fondest memories in golf?
BERNARD LANGER: Well, it's just one of those memories you don't forget. First of all, my first American event, and I was playing very well. I was co-leader. You know, I was very young. I only heard about these big superstars over here and the great tournaments, and I'd never really played against many of them overseas. Then to come here and play against the best and be right there, compete with them and to be welcomed by the people the way they welcomed me, it was all just a great experience.
Q. Did that German tournament move its date?
BERNARD LANGER: Eventually it got moved. At one stage we had four tournaments and now we have three, and they are not clashing anymore, thank goodness.
Q. Do you consider holes 3 through 9 the toughest part of the golf course here at Firestone?
BERNARD LANGER: I would have to think about it, to tell you the truth, but it's definitely -- definitely a very, very difficult stretch, yes. I mean, 3 is -- 3 is very tough. 4 is -- I hit 3-wood into 4 today. 5 is hard. 6 is hard. 7, 8, 9, you know, just, as you say, it's one hard hole after another.
Then it's maybe a little -- 10 is a little shorter if I remember right, 11. It gets a little easier on the back side. Except 18 is another monster.
Q. You say you've seen the intensity of the Ryder Cup escalate from the mid 80s. Do you anticipate it continuing to just go in that direction?
BERNARD LANGER: Well, it's been pretty consistent the last few times. It's been pretty intense. I just hope it can, you know, relax a little more and take a little bit of the tension out, when it's on the spectator side and even just the media side and tone things down a little bit. We've had many great memories and great moments, and it's wrong to just focus on the two or three bad things that have happened. Most of the time, the game of golf was the winner and we are all friends when we walk away from it, whether we are winners or losers.
And there can only be one winner. It's not life and death. There's more important things in life. It's just a great championship. It's a great match, something to look forward to, something to enjoy, and it's just -- you know, there's some write-ups which I thought were very bad I thought, when Curtis got blasted a few years ago, or Lanny Wadkins when he picked him or Tom Kite was a bad captain. I don't agree with any of that. I don't think that was right. They are just looking for someone to blame. In the end, it is the players to blame because they did not perform as good as they can or should have.
Q. Do you senses the players get caught up in the intensity and this escalation; that maybe the guys that are new to the team thinks that the way it is or the way it is supposed to be?
BERNARD LANGER: It could happen. I think not everybody gets caught up into it, but it can. If you open the papers and you read about it and the way some of the people react out on the golf course, it is easy to get caught up into it.
Q. Talk about the game of golf being the winner. Was the game of golf a loser in '99 at Brookline?
BERNARD LANGER: I don't know, I think there was a lot of great golf, and there was one or two incidents which probably should not have happened. If those had not happened we would have focused on the great shots and the great putts that were made and the incredible golf that was played, it would have been an outstanding event. Instead, one or two things happened and everybody focused on that and all of the other stuff was forgotten, the good stuff.
GORDON SIMPSON: Paul Azinger said yesterday it was only when he didn't play he realized how much he missed it. Would that be the same in your case, having missed out in '99?
BERNARD LANGER: Definitely, yes. I wanted to make that team very badly. I just missed out.
It didn't feel very good watching it on TV.
Q. For all the worldwide championship golf you have played, to this day is the final match with Hale the most intense environment, in terms of the last hour that you have been a part of, or right up there at least?
BERNARD LANGER: It was certainly right up there, yes, certainly the last four or five holes when pretty much everyone else was kind of done. Because we were last out and the other matches in front of us kind of finished a little bit earlier, lost 3-2 or something like that. We had four holes to go, three, and it was pretty obvious what needed to be done and what the outcome would be if such and such happened.
Yes, that's very intense. At other times, it was very similar.
Q. For those of us who have not seen The Belfry in a while, can you describe a couple of the changes they have made, improvements they have made to the course that might be noticeable this time around?
BERNARD LANGER: Oh, there's big changes yes. A very different golf course to what it was, maybe, four or six years ago. It's really improved. There's hundreds more trees or thousands more. They are much bigger than they used to be. A lot of holes are now -- you can't look across five fairways like you used to. It's not an open field anymore.
And they have changed a number of the holes. Like the third hole is totally different golf hole now. It's a par 5 and the fourth hole is different. The fourth is now a par 4. So things have matured. The golf course has matured a great deal, and I think it is in better condition than it used to be, as well.
Q. What do you think will be the winning score this week?
BERNARD LANGER: This week? It's really difficult for me to say because I haven't played here for many years. I played the golf course the first time today, and it's kind of still soft out there. The forecast is good, so things might change. You know, I really need to sit back, and, some guys play a different game to me. You take Tiger and Mickelson and ten other guys who can carry it 300-plus, for them, it is a different golf course. So I would guess maybe 8- to 12-under, but I'm really not sure.
Q. Ten years ago, your putt at Kiawah on 18 was called maybe the biggest pressure putt in the game's history. Ten years later, looking back, how do you feel about that?
BERNARD LANGER: Well, it was certainly a lot of pressure on that because it's not like any other tournament. You don't play for yourself. If I play in the Masters and British Open and I make a mistake, I'm the one who pays the price. When you play in the Ryder Cup, you represent the whole team, your captain, your tour, your continent. It's a different -- a totally different thing. So the pressure is probably more intense and different, as well.
But, you know, I don't know if it's the most pressure put ever. I really don't know. There were other guys who have missed putts in circumstances that maybe weren't as pressurized or similar, I really have no idea. It was certainly -- I haven't had a lot of putts that were as important as that one.
GORDON SIMPSON: Thank you. Bernhard, good luck this week.