Martin Dempster: Old guard have a chance in the Open Championship

Bernhard Langer was in contention at this year's Masters and says age is no barrier to major success, particularly at the Open where the old skill of shaping shots still matters.'Picture: Getty Images
Bernhard Langer was in contention at this year's Masters and says age is no barrier to major success, particularly at the Open where the old skill of shaping shots still matters.'Picture: Getty Images
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Bernhard Langer believes a major will soon be won by an over-50s golfer, and tells Martin Dempster why this year’s Open Championship at Royal Troon may provide the best chance for a Senior moment

Bernhard Langer quickly became overlooked by the television producers in the final round of the Masters a fortnight ago. Just two off the lead as he headed out in the penultimate group, the 58-year-old German dropped three shots in the opening three holes and ended up tied for 24th. There was to be no fairytale to mark his 100th win– yes, incredible, isn’t it? – as a professional. His bid to eclipse both Jack Nicklaus, the oldest player to claim a Green Jacket at 46, and Julius Boros, who won the 1968 US PGA Championship at 48, fizzled out.

Yet, Langer remains convinced that it is only a matter of time before a player from golf’s Senior ranks, namely someone 50 or over, upstages the game’s young guns to win a major. The Open Championship, in fact, is the one he believes gives the “golden oldies” the best chance to achieve that feat, so history could be in the making when the R&A’s marquee event returns to Royal Troon in July for the first time since 2004.

“I think it’s still feasible,” insisted the two-time Masters champion. “The Open more so than some of the other majors. In general, the US Open courses are long. They make par-5s into par-4s, so it’s more of a distance game. Augusta has become long and players have a huge advantage if they drive it long and are coming in with short irons to the demanding greens. In the Open, there are venues that are long, but you are battling the elements and you can bounce the ball in. A lot of these young guys don’t shape the ball these days. They hit it right up in the air and land them softly. That’s not what you need to do at most Open venues. That is the best chance for an over-50 to win.”

Tom Watson, of course, inspired the game’s older generation at Turnberry in 2009, when he came agonisingly close to claiming a sixth Claret Jug at the age of 59. The great man has said his goodbye to the sport’s oldest major, but there are other potential Senior storylines at Royal Troon. Todd Hamilton, for instance. The man who claimed the Claret Jug at the Ayrshire venue 12 years ago will be returning in July as a recent recruit to the over-50s ranks. Colin Montgomerie will also be trying to be in the field for an event taking place at the venue he regards as “home”.

“The players in their 40s and 50s are in better shape these days, they are athletes,” added Langer, who is the perfect example. “Davis Love, Fred Couples… they have the length to compete on most courses. I think there will be more of them. We have young guys coming in who can hit it over 300 yards and the older ones can do it, too. It’s a matter of managing your game and peaking at the right time. Stamina is not an issue. We have seven or eight events on the Seniors Tour that are 72 holes, it’s not that we never play four-round tournaments. I don’t think that’s a factor.”

While Langer himself is not exempt for this year’s Open Championship, he will definitely be heading to Scotland the following week for the Senior equivalent at Carnoustie. It was there, in 2010, that he recorded the first of his two wins in the event. “I had my hands full with Corey Pavin and, fortunately, I played smart,” recalled Langer of a one-shot success over the man who was the US Ryder Cup captain at the time. “It was a big win. One of my goals on the Champions Tour is to win major championships. I never won the Open. I came close on a number of occasions, but never managed to lift the Claret Jug. The Senior Open was the next best thing. I know it’s not the Open, but I still beat a lot of great champions, a lot of legends on a very tough championship course. It was great.”

Langer used a long putter to claim both that win and his follow-up triumph at Royal Porthcawl in 2014. He is still likely to be wielding that on 21-24 July, the only difference being that it is no longer “anchored”. His new technique may have raised the odd eyebrow but, according to the man himself, his fellow competitors have not said anything to him.

“Not at all,” he replied to being asked if he’d encountered any hostility over the fact he’d managed to overcome the ban introduced this year without having to revert to a short putter. “I didn’t feel it before and not since. I have talked to a lot of my colleagues who didn’t use the long putter and we asked if the ban was a good thing or not. Most people don’t understand why they did it. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. If it’s so much easier to anchor a putter, then everybody would do it.”

Confirming something that Montgomerie mentioned in a pre-Masters interview, Langer added: “I have put a lot of hours and effort into trying different putting styles, grips and putters. Many hours. At this time, the non-anchoring with the long putter is still the most comfortable for me. What the future holds, I don’t know. I may go to a shorter putter or a different grip. But, at this stage, it is what it is.”