Bernhard Langer Chasing Irwin Champions Record
I suppose that everyone thinks this way once in a while – “If I could only back to younger days with my present knowledge and attitude.” I remember when I could hit a golf ball the wrong way, and somehow tweak the body so that it looked ok after all. I remember when an ache, pain, or outright injury was an uncommon thing. I remember feeling competitive in terms of distance, always believing I could carry the water, and being shocked when golf didn’t deliver the goods the way I’d imagined it that morning. It’s time to quote Tennyson again, I guess – “Though much has gone, much abides.” He got that right – just look at Bernhard Langer. Now, he abides.
Langer has by now won 41 times on the PGA Champions Tour. After the age of 60, he has won eight times, and has won every year for 14 consecutive seasons. He’s coming to the Bridgestone Senior Players to see if he can inch one win closer to Hale Irwin’s record. It’s not going to be a pushover. Irwin is among the most enduring golfers from the tour’s past, having shot his age or better 44 times, besting even Gary Player who did it routinely. Incidentally, Langer is 63 years of age, just a kid. Irwin is 75, and can still hit straight, chip and putt well enough to be competitive. That, too, is pretty good abiding.
It is true that as one ages, certain things from youth have to be rethought, and many times given up. In some cases, it’s not a bad idea anyway. There are many things from my younger competitive self that used to mean the world, but are now meaningless, even boring. It fascinates me at times to consider, “How could I have thought that way back then?” It surprises me how I would now trade power for poise in so many situations.
Of course, one thing that has to go is swinging for the center field fence, which is the going thing for the young person’s tour. The De Chambeau thing is exciting on PGA weekends, but for some downright dangerous on the Champions. Although Fred Couples might contest the point, I sometimes feel in an overswing that my left arm is going to sail down the fairway along with the ball. It used to be that we waited expectantly for all phases of our game to excel at the same time. Now, we do the same thing with how each part of the body. If I can manage that foot pain on the same day my back twinge lies low, stiff neck loosens up and stinging knees calm down, I’m up for a good round. Hopefully, these are usually more annoying than incapacitating, and staying inside one’s self can still produce a good score.
A young person might not understand how 63 and 75 can still feel good and work well, but Langer and Irwin can demonstrate it. Yes, it’s farther down to the ground than it used to be, and bending down to pick something up can take a little while, but putting the ball on the tee and picking it up don’t hurt your score, just your back. In between, a good lyric swing can still produce good pzazz. If Irwin says he can still putt, chip and hit straight, that should get anyone 85% home.
Langer, at 63, can still feel a little more of the fire in the younger swing, at least it looks that way. Taking care of himself as he has, he should enjoy that for quite a while more. I don’t believe that competitive fire wanes with age, hopefully just rash judgment, even if it’s just being too tired to make or get in trouble. The game loses muscle and gains brains through the years, so it’s still fun to watch, albeit less testosteronic.
One of golf’s beauties is that it may be ruthless to one’s score, but not necessarily to one’s age. A senior swing can feel really good, and still go somewhere. It can still win. One can still smell the air and see the trees, and spend a day not being mad at anyone, least of all one’s self. Yes, I wish I could take these things back with me and enjoy being young more than I did. Meanwhile, the Langer and Irwin types are setting a good example of how to enjoy playing, winning – and “abiding.”