Perhaps I can’t go out and play 36 before or after a day watching the Masters, but with spring finally bursting forth in Washington state, I finally took my cramped, stiff, and under-used old body out to the driving range for the first time this season. I did a little more stretching than usual, but still felt in the first few balls that I was going to carry body parts home in a wheelbarrow that afternoon. Thinking back to Gary Player’s ceremonial shot, and his hole-in-one in pre-tournament, I had to wonder how someone who still has a good number of years on me maintains such a young swing, walk, and mind. Of course, we all know why. We’ve seen him keep his engine finely-tuned from the very beginning, and his spirit is downright Churchillian. Today, however, is Saturday, and if I ever needed further proof of the value in exercise and stretching, Bernhard Langer provided it for me.
Langer is actually playing the tournament, and as of the end of round 3, is an official contender going into Sunday. Now, in the 80s and 90s, he was a major deal, with “major” emphasized. Langer was one of those Europeans who answered the Big Three with colleagues like Woosnam and Ballesteros. The first year in which players got world rankings, it was Bernhard Langer, not Jack, Arnie, or Gary, who got the first #1. It may be later in the game from the height of his glory days, but Langer has won the Masters twice, so it’s not like he doesn’t know what’s going on, or suddenly figured out the game of golf.
Langer’s success in 2016 enters into any question of comparison between modern players and those of other generations. We assume that man and womankind are constantly improving, and that today’s star would have a natural advantage, but Langer is moving to Sunday only a little behind new star Jordan Spieth, and leading McIllroy and Day by at least a few. And, this isn’t just one of those first round, “Get lucky and experience a nostalgic rally.” No, they’ve all put in three days of golf, and here he is.
Maybe it’s something that they used to put in the water in the village of Anhausen, where Langer was born 58 years ago. Perhaps it all has something do with his life view, which is filled with faith and family. Somewhere along the line, maybe he learned the distinction between “love to win” and “gotta win,” embracing the former and letting go of the latter. Perhaps that is one reason why he is so well-liked – less anxiety-producing. Of course, such a way of living and thinking of the world doesn’t guarantee one a cushy life, and Langer has had his share of difficulties, just like everyone else. Apropos to golf, he went through a period of dealing with the yips, and has apparently come out the other side – Ernie, take note, all is not lost.
So, I tried a calmer approach on the driving range. As much as I detest the phrase, “act your age,” I agreed to at least act a little more like it, and try for one of those elegant, more simplistic swings, trading form for force. So, I admit it, it started going much straighter (enough to avoid the rough in most cases) and about the same distance. By the bottom half of the bucket, I sent the wheelbarrow away. Is this how one maintains golfing longevity? I’ve seen Player grow more and more fluid over the years, and have followed his example of a slightly shorter backswing. Is this part of the reason that Bernhard Langer, and not John Daley, is in contention for the 2016 Masters? Or, is it just some biological blessing? Either way, it’s fun to see him make waves decades later.