Without a putting tip from the late Seve Ballesteros 31 years ago Bernhard Langer may never have gone on to win two U.S. Masters and countless tournaments around the world, the German great told Reuters at the 140th British Open in Sandwich.
Bernhard Langer of Germany tees off on the fifth hole during a practice round for the British Open golf championship at Royal St George's in Sandwich, southern England July 12, 2011.
The two contrasting characters represented, according to Langer, "fire and ice" and formed a golfing equivalent of the tennis rivalry that existed between excitable American John McEnroe and the cool, undemonstrative Swede Bjorn Borg.
In 1980, though, the German had yet to record his first European Tour victory and was in the grip of one of several putting crises while Spaniard Ballesteros, who died two months ago at the age of 54 after a long battle with brain cancer, had won the British Open a year earlier.
"Seve gave me a great putting tip before a tournament at Sunningdale (on the outskirts of London) and I remember it vividly," said the 53-year-old Langer, who will be defending his Senior British Open title this week.
"Who knows? Without that talk with Seve I may never have won a tournament.
"I had the yips on four occasions in my career and that was one time when I wasn't putting very well," Langer added. "I was struggling and he came over to me at the practice green, grabbed the putter and said, 'Let me have a look'.
"He took a couple of putts with it before handing it back to me. 'Terrible, terrible', he said and then walked away."
Not content with Ballesteros's briefest of brief responses, Langer sought more in the way of an explanation.
"I said, 'Hang on a minute, why is it terrible?'. Seve had already won the Open in 1979, I hadn't done a whole lot at that point, so I wanted him to explain what was wrong with the putter.
"He said, 'It's too light and doesn't have enough loft'. So I contemplated what Seve said and I thought he might be right.
"I walked straight into the pro shop there and then, bought a new putter on the spot and went on to finish third that week, second after that and then I won my first European Tour event at
the Dunlop Masters at Chepstow in Wales.
"I went third, second, then first. That was one of the greatest tips I ever got in the game of golf and from that point on my career went up like that," he said pointing to the sky.
Langer went on to win two Green Jackets at the U.S. Masters in 1985 and 1993 while Ballesteros picked up five majors.
Langer said the two men were not particularly close at the start of their careers but, helped by the fact that both had to fight their way up from the bottom to the top, they became firm friends.
"Back then golf was more of a rich man's game in Spain and Germany and we had to get there from a poor background," said Langer. "We were not given anything and were never amateurs so we didn't have that experience either.
"We were very different. He was phenomenally charismatic, had a lot of flair and created so many shots. He was also a fantastic putter.
"I had lots of putting problems. I was more the Borg of golf and he was the McEnroe," laughed the German, who is an ambassador for Mercedes-Benz, patrons of the British Open at Sandwich.
"We were like fire and ice. I think it was good we weren't the same -- it created interest."
Langer and Ballesteros were colleagues in several Ryder Cup sides and he said he would never forget the way his team mate reacted when the German missed a six-foot putt at Kiawah Island in South Carolina in 1991, costing the Europeans the trophy.
"I remember walking off the green and going into the locker room," said Langer. "He gave me a hug and started bawling and crying and said, 'No one should ever have to make that kind of putt'.
"He was that intense but he always had kind words. Seve was a dear friend and a dear rival, in a sense.
"We all miss him. European golf is very indebted to Seve -- he did a lot for the game over here and for the game worldwide."
The Senior British Open, which is being held at Walton Heath on the outskirts of London, starts on Thursday.
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