The Bernhard Langer Tree Shot

A couple of Mondays ago I was at Fulford Golf Club (near York) for a stumpgrinding course with a legendary forester. As we arrived at the course, he told us a brilliant story about a famous golfer who was playing a tournament there a few years ago. On one of the holes his ball got stuck in a tree, so he climbed up the tree, took his shot, and went on to place second!

Here’s a photo and the story in Langer’s own words, lifted directly from his autobiography (Bernhard Langer: My Autobiography, 2003).

Langer calls it an oak tree, but you can see from the leaves and bark that it’s actually an ash (Fraxinus excelsior). Whatever, it’s still a fantastic, almost iconic, image.

In 1981 I became a world-famous golfer in a rather amusing way. I was playing in the Benson and Hedges International at Fulford. On the seventeenth hole I hit a nine iron to the green, pulled it left and it hit a big oak tree, to the left of the green. I heard the ball hit two or three times but did not see it come down. Seconds later the spectators started laughing and, sure enough, the ball was lodged in a little indentation in a branch about fifteen feet up!

I was in contention – finishing second in the end. My only concern was how to play the hole best… The worst option was to go back and take a ‘stroke and distance’ penalty. Dropping a ball at the green side was a better option, but still with a penalty. The best option, if it were possible, was clearly to play the ball from where it lay. I considered the options, looked where the ball was and decided that I might be able to hit it onto the green.

The hardest part was getting up the tree, getting a stance, and especially not falling out of the tree as I hit the ball! I managed to succeed in hitting the ball onto the green, leaving myself a putt for par. The crowd went absolutely crazy. Unfortunately I missed it, but at least it was only one dropped shot.

My only concern was to get the best score on the hole, and it was a bonus that there was a TV camera behind the hole – remember, in those days they only covered the last few holes. It was shown on TV around the world and, as I was pretty much at the beginning of my career, I was in some places better known for climbing the tree than for my golf!

I had my first experience of playing in the USA in 1981 when I was invited to play in the World Series. I was leading with six holes to play but could not quite sustain it. It was a good experience and boosted my confidence. That was shortly after the Benson and Hedges tournament and the tree incident.

I was amused to overhear this conversation between two people in the gallery:

‘Who is that?’
‘Isn’t he the man who climbs trees?’
‘What’s his name?’
‘I think it’s Bernard-something.’
‘No, it’s not. That’s Tarzan!’

Langer also recounts a different time when he hit a ball into a tree:

In fact my ball has stuck up a tree three times in my career. The second and third times were both in California, most recently at the end of 2001, and both Peter Coleman (my caddie) and I were in the tree, though Peter went higher. As I definitely could not play the ball this time, there was no point in my climbing up. It was a three wood that struck the ball high up in the tree, where it stuck maybe sixty feet up. You could see the ball from underneath but you could not get to it.

The next problem in this situation is that, under the rules, I have to be able to identify my ball. I could see it was a Titleist but every tournament player marks his ball in a particular way. I put two dots by the number. The referee said, ‘ If you are not sure that is your ball, you have to go back and replay the shot.’
I said, ‘I know it is my ball. I saw it go there and get stuck.’
He said, ‘Can you identify it?’
I said, ‘No, but I know it is my ball.’

So we got binoculars from someone in the crowd and with them we could see the two dots on the ball, and so I was allowed to drop it under the tree. After I declared it unplayable, we shook the tree and the ball fell.

Bernhard Langer: what a guy!

Posted in Miscellany

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