Bernhard Langer entered the media room after his 4-under 66 on the Cochise Course at Desert Mountain in Scottsdale, Arizona. That left him T2 with three others and one stroke behind the leader, Tom Pernice, Jr.
One of the first chores a player has when his media session begins is to run down the details of his birdies so that reporters will have the facts straight:
No. 15 was driver, 3-wood. Maybe one of the best shots I’ve hit all year about 10 feet past the hole or 12 feet past the hole, didn’t make the putt.
That this was just one of the best shots he hit all year was an understatement. It had to have been the best. I know because I was there, I am a member of Desert Mountain and I play the Cochise course all the time.
The par-5 15th is an average length par 5 at 545 yards, but that doesn’t begin to get to its difficulty: it is effectively an island green with a short steep slope down to 35 yards of fronting pond. But to have a chance to get there, you have to carry one of Jack Nicklaus’ middle-of-the-fairway bunkers 262 yards from the plate on the tee. Into the almost always prevailing wind, Langer managed to do that.
Now he’s got 245 yards, still into the wind, to a pin that circumstantially is so far away it looks like it’s on another hole. That sense of it is aided by an ever so slight downhill that allows you to see all the trouble in its full glory. Hopefully, the following question-and-answer I had with him will give you an even better sense of the shot…and how he managed to pull it off.
One of the things he said in Wednesday’s media session was that now that he has the Schwab Cup locked up, he’s going to play more aggressively. Not recklessly, but more aggressively:
Q. Was that second shot on 15 more aggressive like you said you were going to be yesterday? I was standing in the fairway, I couldn’t believe you hit that shot into the wind. That was pretty brisk. So after you made that decision, how were you feeling? I mean, was there any —
I absolutely nutted it and hit it right in the middle of the clubface. If there’s any slight miss or groove high or groove low or bit toe or bit heel, I knew it was wet. It was one of those things I was very happy to feel that I hit it perfect and it went perfect.
Q. It was a stunning shot. Everybody in the fairway —
I impressed myself [which is saying something when he knows just how good he is].
Q. So when you’re hitting that shot, was it like any other shot that you hit or was there any extra tension, any anxiety? Clearly not any fear because that was a fearless shot.
There’s always a little bit of tension. We’re all a little nervous because you want to do the best you can. As I said, some of the pressure’s off because I’ve already achieved the main goal [of winning the Schwab Cup] and I can enjoy this week and hopefully have some fun out there. I wish I had made a few more putts, but you can’t force that.
Q. That was what I was trying to get to on that shot. How do you manage your emotions when you know you have a big shot like that coming up?
Just normal, you just go through your routine and try to make the best swing, make a smooth swing and hit it in the middle of the clubface. That’s all you can do. There’s nothing else you can do.
Because his ability to score is so machine-like, we assume that it’s because he is playing cautiously to protect his score. Not true…
I generally play aggressive. Just because I might not always go for a shot like the one of 15 doesn’t mean I’m not playing aggressive. I would call my style of play aggressive-smart, or smart-aggressive.
When I throw the word “smart” in, that means for certain shots you just don’t go for because it might be nine out of 10 I’m not going to pull it off, why go for it? That’s bad odds and I think that’s the best way to play golf. You’ve got to use your strengths against the weakness of the golf course, not the other way around.
And that’s exactly what some of the shorter players like Zach Johnson on the PGA Tour do; they work assiduously on their wedge play so that they can take the short approach shot the course gives you: “smart-aggressive,” in Langer’s parlance.