Bernhard Langer still adjusting to anchored putting ban
NAPLES, Fla. -- In Bernhard Langer's online profile on the PGA Tour Champions website, it's the first item listed:
"To combat putting yips, has used a variety of putting grips, most recently utilizing a long putter that he began using at the end of the 1996 season."
For years, that was just a footnote to a Champions career that's included 25 victories, three Charles Schwab Cups (including the last two), and in Naples, two titles. That's on top of a World Golf Hall of Fame career with two Masters titles and a winning Ryder Cup captaincy in 2004.
But Langer had to wonder when the calendar turned to 2016 if his tour golf fortunes would follow suit.
That date is when the United States Golf Association's ban on "anchoring" the putter against a part of the body went into effect. And it meant Langer, 58, had to change after using that long putter for 19 years.
So Langer had to turn into a tinkerer. He's tried 15 different putters and four different putting styles leading into the 2016 season. In the first two tournaments, he's used two putting styles, and currently is 49th in putting average -- albeit just in two events -- after finishing first last year.
"It takes a lot of time," he said Wednesday, getting ready for the Chubb Classic at TwinEagles Club. "It takes time to get the right equipment for each putting method. It's not that I have 600 putters in my garage. ... I haven't even looked at putters for basically the last 15 years. I've had the same putter (a two-ball Odyssey) throughout the whole time."
Langer was eighth in Hawaii to open the season, then tied for 10th last week in his home of Boca Raton.
"They've been solid tournaments, nothing spectacular, nothing terrible," he said. "Anytime you finish in the top 10 out here, you're playing pretty good."
But Langer has been known for more than playing "pretty good."
"I honestly cannot remember when Bernhard ever putted with a short putter so the anchoring ban certainly is something that can affect him immensely," said Gail Graham, a three-time LPGA Tour winner, Naples instructor at Tom Patri Golf Schools, and Daily News contributor who is doing short-game clinics with Patri on a monthly basis.
"Because he had the butt of the putter on the top of his chest, he had what is called a 'one axis' style," said Dr. Jim Suttie, the 2000 PGA of America Teacher of the Year who has an academy at TwinEagles and also is a Daily News contributor. "The putter could do nothing but make a perfect arc as it opens up to the target line, but stays square to his arc. The only variables he had to control were the length and speed of his backswing, the correct ball position, and the releasing of the putter. This is considered a one-lever motion as the putter face is always square to the arc."
Eric Kaplan wants Langer to be as good as he's accustomed to being. So the writer of "Putting: The Four Secret Body Locks" has been working with Langer on putting, and also getting him ready with the impending 2016 anchor ban.
Kaplan stresses the alignment of the body and its effects on the putting stroke. Kaplan met Langer's daughter at a charity event two years ago, then played a round of golf with Langer.
"The issue of the yips comes down to his posture," Kaplan told Langer, who had thought the yips were more of a medical issue.
After working with Kaplan, Langer made 11 birdies in his next round at the Allianz Championship that year. Of course, now Kaplan has to help put Langer in position to do that from a different standpoint with the putter.
"That will probably continue for a number of weeks and months until I find something that I think is the way to go and then totally commit to that and continue to work on that one style that I'm eventually committed to," Langer said. "At this point, it could be different on any given day."
"He's in the middle of trying to figure out what feels comfortable for him," said Kaplan, who's based at Emerald Hills Country Club in Hollywood, but will be in Southwest Florida for book signings and clinics next week at Bonita Bay Club on Feb. 16, Grey Oaks on Feb. 17, and Mediterra on Feb. 18.
Langer has tried a long putter without anchoring, and what he refers to as the "(Matt) Kuchar" style of pressing the butt end of the putter against his left forearm with the right hand below, in the two tournaments so far this year. He's also dabbled with the claw, putting crosshanded, and a regular conventional style in non-tournament situations.
"Matt Kuchar's style of mounting the putter to the left forearm seems to be a loophole the USGA missed in the rule change," said Patri, who disagrees with the anchoring ban and also is a Daily News contributor.
The other factor that plays into the change is there are different angles to the putter and different grips Langer has to choose depending on what style he uses. In the end, it all comes down to what makes Langer feel comfortable, with the idea then that if he's comfortable, that will lead to the desired results.
"It's really been interesting and very surreal, this entire process," said Kaplan, who also works with Miguel Angel Jimenez and just started with Val Skinner.
Kaplan and Graham said Langer can overcome this barrier for one reason above all others: Work ethic.
"He works harder than anybody," Kaplan said. "The one thing that he's been able to do is persevere. That's his will."
Langer will have to persevere -- and be patient -- to arrive at what works for him, then give it a chance.
"It just takes a little time to weed my way through the thing and be comfortable with it," he said. "The technique has to be solid that it holds up under pressure. The key is that you're relaxed, and that you're comfortable and that you're positive about it."
And then just putt the ball into the hole. If only it were that easy.
This article was written by Greg Hardwig from Naples Daily News, Fla. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.