Langer Finds Way Around Anchoring Ban

    Two-time Masters Champion Bernhard Langer wasn’t on anyone’s short list when he arrived for the 80th playing of the Masters. It’s not that Langer lacked game or experience or even the ability to compete against players thirty-five years younger than him, the big strike against Langer going into this year’s Masters was the same challenge facing Adam Scott, Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson – the worldwide anchoring ban that went into effect January 1, 2016.

    Scott, Simpson and Bradley have tried to make do with conventional putting strokes and standard length putters. While Scott’s putting has actually improved this year, and he has two wins to show for it, Simson and Bradley’s performances have fallen sharply.

    Langer has taken a different tack. Many people watching the Masters this weekend may have thought the long putters were banned when, in fact, the only thing banned was the anchoring action not the longer club.

    Langer has kept the long putter and still takes a practice stroke with the putter anchored inside his top hand and on his sternum. He then however moves the top hand away from his body before making the actual stroke. So far, it’s been a stroke of genius for Langer who has battled multiple cases of the yips during his long and distinguished career.

    The yips reared their ugly head in Thursday’s first round when four-time major champion Ernie Els self-destructed on the 1st green, taking 6 putts to hole out from two and a half feet. Els was honest in the media room after the round, admitting that he was essentially lost, saying it is tough to putt “when snakes are in your head.” Els abandoned the long putter as well in anticipation of this year’s anchoring ban.

    Technically speaking, the “yips” are defined as a loss of fine motor skills in experienced athletes. The yips aren’t exclusive to golf. Former New York Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch, who was an All-Star, suddenly lost the ability to execute the simple, short throw from second base to first base. Knoblauch never really recovered and eventually retired from baseball.

    Langer played brilliantly the first three days. He was especially good in Saturday’s third round, holing several long putts. His third round 70 left him at one under par for the tournament and tied for 3rd place with Hideki Matsuyama going into Sunday’s final round. Only Smylie Kaufman and Jordan Spieth began the day ahead of Langer who was only two-shots behind of Spieth after 54 holes of play.

    Things came undone for Langer on Sunday. He posted 79 and faded to a tie for 24th place. The biggest challenge for Langer was hitting much longer irons into the holes than his younger counterparts. But, make no mistake about it; Langer has not been stopped dead in his tracks because of the United States Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient’s decision to ban the anchored putting stroke. He has fashioned a workaround and remained competitive, already winning on the Champions Tour this season, a tour he has dominated since turning 50 years of age.

    His play also proved that the long putter isn’t necessarily dead. Webb Simpson famously snapped his long putter in half, signifying a physical and psychological break with the club that helped him win a U.S. Open title. Perhaps Simpson, and other pros, will take a page out of Langer’s book and solder their long putters back together and move that top hand off their chests.

    They say that necessity is the mother of invention – Langer’s long experimentation with different grips, different length putters and different techniques are proof positive that where there’s a will, there’s a way.