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An Interview With: European Ryder Cup Captain Bernhard Langer

JULIUS MASON: Good Wednesday morning, ladies and gentlemen. I'm happy to be joined this morning with European Ryder Cup Captain Bernhard Langer. Bernhard, welcome to Wisconsin, Whistling Straits. Some opening thoughts and we'll go to Q&A.

BERNHARD LANGER: Thank you. It's nice to be here. It's a fantastic venue, great golf course. Maybe a little bit extreme here and there, but it's certainly going to be a fabulous test, and wonderful scenery out there, as well. I didn't know how pretty the country was up here. I've never been to this part of America, and it's truly breathtaking playing along the lake here. So I'm open to any questions.

Q. How difficult is it going to be for you to concentrate on your own game when Ryder Cup selection is so close?

BERNHARD LANGER: Well, it is a challenge, but I'm usually known to be able to focus on what's at hand. So I try to really focus on my game for those five or six hours while I'm out there and then I have the rest of the day to think about other stuff. But as time draws closer, obviously it's more and more on my mind. The good thing is, I still have two and a half weeks to go, or almost three weeks. So, it's not immediate right now that I need to make certain decisions tomorrow.

Q. Hal said recently that this whole thing is taking a lot more of his time than he thought originally it would, and also, that his thought process on the captain's choices, he thought originally it would take care of itself and it would be rather easy, but it's become more difficult in his mind. What about you on those two?

BERNHARD LANGER: I'm in a similar situation. I can see where Hal is coming from, because I obviously watch his situation, too, and the players who are available to him or who he might pick. But I'm far more focused on obviously my team, and I'm in a similar situation. I have not just one or two or three guys who should come into the equation. There's really probably eight of them who, maybe even more than eight, who could say, I should have a right to be picked or I should be certainly considered, and I understand that. It's going to be a tough one.

Q. I'm sure you've given it more thought, but what sort of players now are you considering more seriously for Oakland Hills and the kind of golf course that's going to be?

BERNHARD LANGER: Well, right now as we speak, probably my vice captain Anders Forsbrand is in Detroit checking out the golf course for me and going to give me a report which way it is set up, and that might have a small bearing on who I'm going to pick. But there's various aspects. Obviously I need someone who can perform under the most extreme pressure because that's what Ryder Cup is; it's not a local club championship or anything, as you all know. There's more pressure in that event than any other event, I would think. I know the greens there at Detroit there are extremely tough, very, very difficult. So, ideally, you would like to have someone who has a good short game, yet at the same time if the fairways are narrow and the rough is up, you need someone who can hit it straight, as well. So you need all that. On the other hand, you probably -- you know, if I have two or three players who are the same and one has a lot of experience and one doesn't, I'd probably prefer the guy who has experience. So there's various things I need to look at. It's not going to be easy.

Q. You talked about that there are three guys that you're looking at pretty hard.

BERNHARD LANGER: No, no, I didn't say three. I'm looking anywhere from eight to more. I'm sorry if I said three. That's not the case.

Q. Can you maybe identify some of them or at least talk about some of the players you think are really playing well and getting themselves into a position for a captain's pick? And is there any way you cannot pick Colin Montgomerie with his record in the Ryder Cup?

BERNHARD LANGER: Those were several questions, and one thing I forgot in your last question, I have a tendency to pick someone who has played well the last four to six weeks because he's going to be high in confidence, ready to go. If I have a choice of picking someone who has played well lately or someone who played well eight months ago and is kind of on the downward spiral, I would much rather pick the guy who has confidence. That's another thing I'm looking at. First of all, I would like to say, we still have three weeks to go and three big weeks. This week, there's a lot of points, a lot of money. So is next week, and the last week, the BMW. So a lot of things can change. Certainly when I look at any guys here, probably the last three to four places are in jeopardy, unless the guys who are in there are playing well. So things can change. So I don't have the full list of guys who I'm going to have to choose from. I can give you some of the names who are not on the list right now or who are not on the team, I should say. We are looking at Fredrik Jacobsen, Paul McGinley who has been playing very well lately, Colin Montgomerie, possibly even Jesper Parnevik, Alex Cejka is starting to get into really good form. He changed to a different putter and he's been playing much better. We have Luke Donald, who has played well all year and just won the Scandinavian Masters, Justin Rose, and, you know, various guys, Thomas Bjorn. There's a whole bunch of other guys that I have not mentioned. The great news, and that's the way I look at it, 25 years ago, I wouldn't have had these guys because we didn't have the depth. We struggled, we had probably a good five to seven players on the front, and then we really struggled to get the other -- end of the team and certainly didn't have 20 to 30 guys to choose from. Well, now I have that option and that's great. As sad as it's going to be for some to not be on the team who have played very well and deserve to be there, I do have the depth on my team, and that's probably very, very good, obviously, for the team, and that's probably why we've done so much better in the Ryder Cup over the last 20 years.

Q. You talk about form over the past four to six weeks has to be good. If somebody missed the cut this week, would you take into account that it is a very, very different course to Oakland Hills?

BERNHARD LANGER: Well, I'm going to have to look at the whole picture. I just can't take one week and take it out of context. I mean, this course is so severe, you could hit two shots at the wrong time and end up with a 7 or an 8 twice and miss the cut. So I'm going to have to look at the whole thing. But as I said, I would rather prefer someone who has played well over not just this week, but over the last four to eight weeks than someone who has not played well.

Q. Have you spoken to some of the senior players after the Open Championship, because there seemed to be a bit of disquiet that you were not there to see what happened at Troon.

BERNHARD LANGER: Well, first of all, I totally disagree, and I made that public once I read what was written in one of the papers. I made it pretty clear that I thought it was the wrong time to talk to the guys about Ryder Cup issues at the British Open. I wanted my players to focus on the British Open, win the championship or finish as high as possible and make lots of points and not get distracted with Ryder Cup issues. So, I made that very clear and I still stick to that. That was not the time for me to be running around talking to guys and putting extra pressure, extra stuff in their head. And that has not changed. Whatever other criticism there might have been, I don't think it was very valid. Does that answer your question?

Q. Have you spoken to some of the players about it?

BERNHARD LANGER: Yes, I have spoken to some of the players, not immediately after the British Open, but I've called some players, seen some players last week, I've seen players this week. I've spoken pretty much to every one of them. I think everything is fine. I think that was more of a thing that was made up by the press than by the players themselves.

Q. Of the guys that are positioned, maybe the Top-12, 14 positioned to make this team, which of them are you somewhat surprised or would you might not have guessed would be in this position at the start of the year?

BERNHARD LANGER: Well, obviously there's always one or two. Maybe the big surprise is Joakim Haeggman, who I had chosen as one of my assistant captains several months ago, and he's had a very good year. He's played brilliant most of the year. He's in 10th position right now if I'm correctly informed, and that's great to see. We have Jean-Francois Remesy from France, he's in 11th place, even though I have really two 11th places because I have the World Ranking list and I have Money List, so I have two guys in sixth position on each list, so I don't have a real 11th and a real 12th as such. And really, most of the other guys, I mean, there's Graham McDowell from Ireland, he's played very well, we know he's solid, and Raphael Jacquelin, another Frenchman. Maybe Thomas Levet is one guy who has really picked up his game after maybe struggling a little bit when he played here a year or two ago on the U.S. Tour. But he's really come a long way. All of the other guys have, you know, pretty much -- the guys I was hoping to be there, certainly the top four or five. As I said, the bottom end, things can still change.

Q. On your captain's pick, Hal had mentioned last week that with these two selections, you're kind of filling in the missing ingredients on your team. Are you inclined to look more towards experience, toward which game maybe suits Oakland Hills, maybe which player brings chemistry? Which do you think you would need?

BERNHARD LANGER: Most of that. Obviously, if I think the two players would be similar, their game would be similar, I would probably pick the guy who has experience. I think it's vital in a tournament like that that you've had experience either in the Ryder Cup or in major championships, just to have been under that kind of pressure. The more the better, that's basically what I want to say. It's very hard for someone who has never played in many huge events. There is not many, anyways. Out here, all of these guys have played in majors and world championships and most of them have played in Ryder Cup. So that's the good news.

Q. Along those lines, since you may have three, four, five, six players that have never played in the Ryder Cup, how is it that you present to them the type of pressure they might feel out there, or is that something you try to explain or is that something you just have to let them know about experience? Do you prepare them anyway?

BERNHARD LANGER: I will try to prepare them for it, it's not easy. You have to experience it. I will make it pretty clear to them that they might face a hostile crowd. I hope not, but it might happen. Or certain moments when people might cheer for a missed putt or if you dump one in the water or whatever. We have seen that in Ryder Cups. You normally don't see that in the U.S. Open or British Open or other events, but when someone hits in a really bad shot, they go, oohh, that kind of thing, but they don't raise their hands or cheer loudly; that does happen. I will prepare them for it. I don't know if that will make a huge difference, but I want them to be aware of it so they don't go into total shock when it might happen.

Q. Where are you on the importance of the captaincy? Most captains in recent years have modestly said that their role in the Ryder Cup is exaggerated. Most of us have said that the captains have probably underestimated their roles. How important is your captaincy to the success of your team?

BERNHARD LANGER: I would agree with the other captains. I think it's overestimated. I think I'm there to prepare everything, to set the path and make sure the guys have everything they need so they can focus on the game. I've got to make the big thing, besides making lots of decisions and lots of things in preparing where I have some help as well, the big thing is the pairings. Even there, in the end, the players have to play. I can only set the stage and let them loose, that kind of thing and they have to go and perform. I cannot hit the shots. I cannot make the putts. I can't read the putting lines. I can't judge the wind for them and tell them to hit a fade or a draw. They have to perform in the end, and they are the ones winning the points, not me.

Q. You can bring them to the boil, can't you, so they are absolutely ready in every possible way?

BERNHARD LANGER: Yes, I can set the stage, as I said. But in the end, they still need to be ready. I can't be their swing coach. I can't be their -- I can prepare them a little bit mentally, but in the end, I've played in ten Ryder Cups, I know what it's like. I've played in some where I've played great and others where I haven't. When I swing bad or putt bad, there's nothing my captain can do to improve that. That's just something I need to work on with my swing coach, and sometimes it takes a week to fix the swing and sometimes it takes a month, if you've gotten into some bad habits. There's nothing a Ryder Cup Captain can do for me at that time.

Q. Is there a home advantage in Ryder Cup or is that overrated?

BERNHARD LANGER: No, I think there's definitely a home advantage. It's like in most other team sports, you know, whenever the team travels somewhere else, there's a chance -- or not just a chance, it's reality that you've got to have more spectators on the other team cheering for them than from your own team, and I expect that to be the case this year, too.

Q. At Wentworth a couple of months ago, you talked about Colin Montgomerie's problems and you said you just wanted a little evidence that he was playing his way through them and some signs of form. Are you happy with what you've seen in the intervening time?

BERNHARD LANGER: Yes, I have been happy. I have seen a lot of good stuff from Colin. He was in contention at the British Open probably the first time in quite a while if I'm correct. He's had a lot of other good finishes, finished I believe fourth in the Scandinavian Masters and had lots of other good finishes. So his form is very steady and he's extremely close to being the Colin we know. You know, he's gradually creeping up in the rankings, as well.

Q. Do you see it as an advantage that Hal Sutton has to reveal his hand two weeks before you, and could his choice of captains picks have any bearing on yours?

BERNHARD LANGER: No, not at all, because I have to pick my team on the strengths of my team and not on what Hal does. Because I don't know, you know, who is going to play who anyways. So I'm going to have to pick the two best guys that I think are the best for my team, and it doesn't have any bearing on what or who he picks. I do think it might be an advantage, though, that I can pick my guys two weeks later just because I see two more weeks of competition. I think that might be a slight advantage, if anything.

Q. Do you know exactly what you will be doing if Joakim makes the team in terms of assistant role? Have you found somebody else on standby?

BERNHARD LANGER: No. Obviously I've given it some thought but I have not asked anyone yet. But I would like to think that it's not going to be a big problem to find someone to fill that position if necessary.

Q. I thought Jose Maria Olazabal had been asked to assist?

BERNHARD LANGER: Yes, he has been asked. I wonder how you know that (laughter).

Q. I read it.

BERNHARD LANGER: You read it? Wow, that's amazing. That was between him and me. But yes, since you know it, he has been asked but he has turned it down because he's playing tournaments. But that was really between him and me and not anybody else.

Q. How are you physically going about looking at the form of people? Do you have like Sam Torrence did, a little book you're making notes in, or are you storing it in your head?

BERNHARD LANGER: No, I'm having lots of these lists all over my suitcase and my bedroom, and I'm going to have all of the statistics that will tell me pretty much every detail how the guys have been doing over the last two or three months, how many tournaments they have played, how they finished, the strengths of the field and all that kind of stuff. You can get that pretty easily these days because everything is computerized and we know the depths, the strengths of the fields. We know who has played and who has not. That's another thing I'm going to look at. Let's say, for instance, I'm going to have to choose between two guys, I can only take one, and one guy has played 35 events and the other one 15, they have accumulated the same points; well I think it's pretty obvious who is the better player, obviously the one who has played 15 events, so I'm going to have to go with that.

Q. There's been a lot of guesswork about who the captain's picks are going to be on both sides. Have you looked at the U.S. Team standings and maybe your own thoughts about who might be good captain's picks at this point?

BERNHARD LANGER: Well, I don't want to help Hal here at all. I think he's capable enough to pick his own team. But it's very interesting, yes. Especially his side, I would like to think, because he can go with whatever, experience and steadiness or he can go with other players. I don't want to mention any names because it wouldn't be right for me to do that. I'm sure he will make the proper choices, and again, he's in the same situation, a similar situation I'm in. Whoever he picks will be great players, and it doesn't matter really because they all can play golf and they all can produce results.

Q. Talking about the home advantage, you mentioned the crowds that would be on the U.S. side obviously. Sutton has said that he's not going to tinker with the course himself; he's going to leave that setup part of it to the PGA of America. Is that something you would do, or would you have more of a hand in changing the course if it was a home course for you?

BERNHARD LANGER: It's not the case, and I didn't even think about it to tell you the truth. I'm not a home captain so why even worry about something I'm not going to face. I'm not going to even answer that question because I don't know if I would tinker with the course or not. It might depend on how the course is set up, but I'm sure Hal has talked to the PGA officials who set up the course and he probably agrees with the setup so he probably doesn't have to change it. That's my thinking on that.

Q. All of the captains have had different styles. Have you managed -- have you picked their brains at all about any bits of information about what the difficulties of being a captain are and any bits of advice they can help you with? I'm thinking of Sam Torrence seeking out Alex, and have you managed to get ahold of Franz Beckenbauer yet?

BERNHARD LANGER: Yes, I have talked to Franz Beckenbauer several times. There's really not too much that he revealed that I wouldn't have done or that I would not have known by myself, but I had an interesting conversation with him.

Q. Have you spoken to the previous captains about anything else that could help you?

BERNHARD LANGER: Yeah, I've talked to pretty much all of them a little bit about it, but, you know, again there was really nothing to me revealed that I wouldn't have known. I mean, you have to see my situation a little bit different. I've played in ten Ryder Cups. I've been around these captains many, many times during the Ryder Cup. Many of them have called in, some of the senior players, and talked to us about certain issues. I was one of them. So it's not totally new to me.

Q. Hal has done a lot of motivation. He's left notes in the players lockers, he's encouraged them to look forward to the Ryder Cup. Have you done any of that sort of stuff, the motivation stuff, the notes in lockers or private conversations with the players?

BERNHARD LANGER: I have not given notes, no. But I've had private conversations. I've made phone calls. I talk to the guys whenever I see them on the driving range or play practice rounds with them, that kind of thing. I think my team is highly motivated. I don't think they need any more motivation. The Ryder Cup is the biggest thing in golf, certainly for the Europeans. So that's the last thing I need to do is to motivate them. I just need to keep them happy and encourage them, that's all.

Q. In regards to your team picks, everyone talks about form and how many times they have played in Ryder Cups or majors, but how important is team chemistry in a pick?

BERNHARD LANGER: Team chemistry is always important, but we've never had an issue with that. I've played in ten Ryder Cups and I've been in this team room ten times and experienced wonderful chemistry every single time. So I really don't see a problem with that. I think our guys will fit greatly together. They always come together. Don't ask me why, that's just been the case, and I don't expect it to be different this time.

Q. I understand that, and having been over in Europe a lot, I get the feeling of what you're talking about. But when you're looking at different picks, do you look at some players might have a better chemistry with certain players when you're making a pick?

BERNHARD LANGER: That's a small aspect. I really would like to think that no matter who I pick, they are going to fit on the team and they are going to find at least four, five, six guys amongst the team that they can relate to and be close with and be paired with. I really don't think that is a major factor. That's a very small part of my picks, the chemistry part. I will pay more attention to other things.

Q. You say you've warned your players that there may be a hostile crowd or you will be warning them, but what are they to do about it? How do you suggest they cope?

BERNHARD LANGER: Well, they have just got to be prepared that it might happen. I'm going to tell them that they shouldn't get involved with it. I don't want them to be having arguments with other players, people, spectators, no matter who. I don't want them getting emotionally involved in a sense where they start heckling people or have words with them. I'm going to tell them to ignore it because when you try to upset someone and he just ignores you, eventually it's boring and you give up. That's just common sense.

Q. Does it feel strange approaching this Ryder Cup as a captain rather than a player? And do you actually have any regrets now because you're playing so well that you're not going to be a part of this team?

BERNHARD LANGER: No. Yes, it does feel strange to be on the other side of the fence or the ropes as such, but I have no regrets. I made up my mind many months ago that I want to be captain and I stick to it and I'm very happy with my decision and I want to go through with it. I think it was the right decision.

Q. In view of the stature and the experience in the game, have you spoken to Colin Montgomerie about the prospect of being assistant captain?

BERNHARD LANGER: No, I have not, and for one reason I have not, because I want him to focus on his game and play well and I want him on the team as a player. I don't want him on the team as an assistant captain. If for some reason his game, should it deteriorate or get so bad that I could not consider him as a player, then I might consider him as assistant captain, but I'm not sure he would want to do that, but that's going to be his choice if that ever is going to happen. But no, I didn't want to tell him that two or three months ago. I told him, you know, go and play hard and make the team. You're good enough to do this, and go on and focus and get through it. That's what I want him to do.

Q. If he didn't make the team, would you reconsider that position?

BERNHARD LANGER: If he didn't make the team, yes, he would certainly be one of the first people I would think about as an assistant captain, yes.

Q. Which was the greater pressure, Kiawah and that putt, or a putt to win an individual major championship?

BERNHARD LANGER: I've been asked that many times and I've given it quite a lot of thought. It's not an easy one to answer. I think the pressure, you reach a point of pressure where it just, you know, you can't say this is 100% or is it 110%, what is it. There's so much pressure where you just can't imagine any more of it, that kind of thing. It's a different kind of pressure. You know, Kiawah it was obviously, there was no money involved. I was playing for the team. I felt bad for the team. I was there to play for Europe and not for myself. When you play majors it's all for yourself; you're not doing it for your country, you're not doing it for your tour or anybody else. It's for and you your caddie, basically, and that's it. But the pressure is extreme, maybe more so in the Ryder Cup than in any individual event, and the reason I'm saying that is just when you mess up in an individual event, it's just you and your caddie kind of feel bad and suffer. In a team event, everybody is involved.

Q. So do we assume from that that putt was the most pressure-filled moment you've ever had in your golfing life?

BERNHARD LANGER: Yeah, you can say that.

Q. What difference could an in-form Colin Montgomerie make to Europe's hopes of keeping the trophy?

BERNHARD LANGER: Say that again, please.

Q. What difference could an in-form Colin Montgomerie make?

BERNHARD LANGER: I see. A huge difference. Colin when he plays at his best can beat anybody. He can be a tower of strength. He's been around for a long time. Guys look up to him. You know, that would be the best thing that could happen to us.

Q. On Luke Donald, who obviously does not have the experience you talked about of being involved in contention for a major or a previous Ryder Cup, but he's been very successful at an amateur level in match-play. Does that weigh heavily in his favor?

BERNHARD LANGER: Sure, that weighs, too. And Luke is a very, very consistent player. I've played many practice rounds with him. We have the same manager, so I've known him for a number of years now. I've gotten to play with him quite a bit. He's very straight usually off the tee, very precise player, doesn't make a lot of, whatever, bogeys, double-bogeys, he's very consistent, and his game usually doesn't go from very high points to very low points. He's just steady throughout the year. You know, very stabilizing factor I could imagine on the team, especially when his confidence is high. I think a lot with the younger guys, when their confidence is high, they can do anything, and when your confidence is not there in golf, then it's difficult to perform.

Q. Sam Torrence has said that the thing he found difficult about being captain was speaking publicly in front of millions of people he knew would be listening. What have you found to be the hardest thing to contend with as a captain?

BERNHARD LANGER: Well, I haven't spoken in front of millions yet, not as a Ryder Cup Captain anyways, maybe at other events that were televised worldwide. So you're going to have to ask that question when I'm done with my captaincy and I can tell you what was the most scariest or the most frightening experience.

Q. At least for now, what have you found has been the hardest?

BERNHARD LANGER: Well, maybe at times dealing with stories that are made up, things that are printed or reported that are not truth, but that's nothing new. I've had that experience over the last 30 years on many occasions, so I knew that was going to happen, too. So there really has not been any major surprises to this point.

Q. This will be a good follow-up to that because I had a question about the way you're known to meticulously prepare for everything that you do. There's a story that I've heard several times about, I think it was a match you were playing with Monty in which he gives you a yardage and you ask if it was from the front or the back of the sprinkler head. Is that true?

BERNHARD LANGER: No, it's not true (laughter). That was a good joke from whoever, Colin or his caddie, and they just announced it to someone else and it spread. There's no difference. A sprinkler head is this big; nobody is good enough to hit the ball within six inches, you know, over 180 yards or whatever.

Q. Well, that's a shame (laughter).

BERNHARD LANGER: But that's the way it is (laughter). The Germans might be precise but not that precise.

Q. That said, if you could tell one story or one example about your attention to detail, what would it be?

BERNHARD LANGER: Well, in maybe preparing, playing a practice round, I pay great attention to the golf course, especially a new golf course because I have not been there. And yes, they give us wonderful yardage books, but there's a lot of information that is not in there. Especially on a golf course like this one. I believe you can play this course 50 times, 100 times and you would still see things that you didn't see before because how many bunkers is out there? I don't even know. I hear stories between 1,000 and 3,000, so I think they are all right because they are everywhere. The wind changes the course so much, the angles of the greens. We have greens that are, what, 80 yards long or something, 72 yards long, I don't even know. There's so many different things you could need to know, whatever, and I just try to write as much information in my yardage book that might be helpful. Let's say I hit a bad tee shot and it goes somewhere in the long rough and I'll need to lay up. I can only hit a wedge or a 7-iron, so I need to know where to hit that club, you know, what angle and the whole deal. So I'm paying more attention to that kind of stuff than probably the average player.

Q. Have you ever run out of room on the yardage book for things to write?

BERNHARD LANGER: Yeah, sometimes there's so much, there's just certain holes where there's a lot in there already and there's just not a whole lot of room to make more notes. Yeah, that's true.

Q. That's pretty good, too.

JULIUS MASON: Thanks very much, Bernhard.

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