Bernhard Langer Defies the Norm, Keeps Playing Like a Champion
We’ve seen this type of durability before, but not very often. Golfers such as Gary Player left the PGA Tour still playing the game brilliantly. They didn’t have to stop, and nobody threw them out. Now, after years of watching, I’m seeing an extreme example of the same thing in Bernhard Langer. There’s no need for him to reconsider retirement from professional golf, even at sixty years of age, because he’s winning everything in sight. This week, Langer rolled in a 30-foot putt on the second playoff hole of the Power Share QQQ Championship, finally subduing Miguel Angel Jimenez. It is worth noting that last year, he also won the Dominion Energy Charity Classic by rolling in a twenty-footer for eagle. One source describes Langer’s status as being “the greatest closer on the PGA Tour of Champions.”
In terms of a recent record, Langer is on a roll for any tour we want to name. He has won three of the last four events, and has captured seven wins in this season alone. The score of 67 that brought him into the playoff with Jimenez guaranteed his spot in the top five players hunting for the Charles Schwab Cup, built on a point system, and rewarding the victor with an absurd purse in the form of a one million dollar bonus. A second source has correctly described Langer as “indomitable,” while another claims that he “continues to defy logic.” These are correct on all counts. After all that Langer has accomplished on two tours, he is enjoying his best season in over a decade.
He continues to speak of his game and his penchant for winning in understated terms. He believes that if he were positioned over the same final putt ten times, he would probably only sink it once. Ah, yes, the “I was lucky” explanation. I don’t believe it, and neither does anyone else. This golfer is a wonder, and we’re not sure why. In a lesson to amateur golfers, all of whom would benefit from a lesson here and there, he is an example of true underlying principles. One very important one suggests the pursuit of accuracy over length. Bob Gilder, former great, puts it in a nutshell. Langer, he says, is “pretty darn straight…and he can putt.” Gilder adds that Langer has an apparent ability to focus more intensely than many others can. Staying in the fairway and putting well reduces the whole game to a two-issue strategy that seems simpler than the usual course management.
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Langer’s rookie year was way back in 1972. Even I was young then, but it took me a little while to notice him, as I was still blinded by the glare of the Big Three. Since then, in addition to his wins, he owns nine Arnold Palmer Awards, seven Jack Nicklaus Trophies, and four years in a row as Player of the Year. On top of all that, he also maintains the respect of his industry as a person and as a professional.
Age is not what it used to be, and the ‘Seniors” Tour is likewise greatly transformed. Perhaps at the beginning, retired greats just couldn’t stand not playing competitive golf anymore, and the ‘retirement’ tour was made for them. In this generation, we’ve seen Tom Watson almost win a major in the 60s, and many other examples of astonishing feats of age. The worst thing happening to Langer’s game is, according to him, an iron leaks out right here and there. He is at his best on 6,800 yard courses, never having been a particularly long hitter, and standing at 5’9″. It makes me wonder how he would do on the younger tour if PGA courses were still designed at such a length.
Along with my admiration for what Langer is still able to do, I’m going to take that golf lesson to heart. If I could put testosteronic distance out of my head, stay “pretty darn straight” and get the putter working, maybe I’ll have my best season in ten years.