Bernhard Langer getting better with age

By Dennis Punzel
Published on
Bernhard Langer getting better with age

In introducing Bernhard Langer at his American Family Insurance Championship news conference on Wednesday, PGA Tour Champions spokesman Dave Senko noted that Langer was having a "pretty good year so far."

"Pretty good?" Langer interrupted. "What do you expect? You guys are tough."

Indeed, Langer has raised the bar for himself on the PGA Tour Champions circuit to a near Tiger Woods-at-his-prime level.

Langer has won three of the 10 tournaments he's entered, including two major championships. He leads the Tour in earnings this year with $1.52 million, about $700,000 ahead of No. 2 Woody Austin.

That kind of record makes him the logical favorite to win the inaugural American Family championship, which will be held Friday through Sunday at University Ridge Golf Course.

Of course, Langer is the favorite at every Champions event he plays, a fact of life he's become quite accustomed to and one that he fully embraces, with a dash of humility included.

"I should be one of the favorites," Langer said. "But there's probably 40 others or 50 others. Almost anybody that tees up has won tournaments, is a champion. That's why it's called the Champions tour. There's only 80 of us out here on a regular basis and only the best of the best get to tee it up.

"Looking at the last nine years of me being out on this tour, I've won more tournaments than anybody, more majors than anybody in that period of time. So I should be one of the favorites. Does that affect me? No, not at all. It's a compliment."

The two-time Masters champion (1985 and 1993) has taken his career to a new level since joining the Champions circuit when he turned 50 in 2007.

Langer has won 28 Champions events and a win this week would move him into a tie with Lee Trevino for second on that list behind Hale Irwin's remarkable 45 wins. He ranks third in career earnings at $19.4 million, behind Gil Morgan ($20.6 million) and Irwin ($27 million).

Langer's wins at this year's Regions Tradition and the Constellation Senior Players Championship have moved him into a tie with Irwin with seven major titles, one behind Jack Nicklaus. He has won five of the past 11 majors and has two more chances to add a third major -- the Senior Open Championship at Carnoustie, Scotland, and the U.S. Senior Open at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio -- to match or surpass Nicklaus' mark of three majors in one season. Nicklaus accomplished the feat in 1991 when there were only three majors.

And if anything, Langer appears to be getting better with age. At 58, he is the oldest winner on the Tour this season, with nine of the 12 titles going to players between ages 50 and 53.

The 5-foot-9, 160-pound German credits much of his success to his diligence at maintaining his fitness.

"I believe whatever you do, if you're reasonably fit, if you work out, you just have more energy, you feel better, your concentration is better, you function better, you can go longer, all that," he said. "So it has to be a benefit. How much, I have no idea.

"You saw last week at the U.S. Open, (Steve) Lowry doesn't seem to strike me as the athlete, as such, but he hung in there and there were a lot of people probably pulling for him just because he doesn't look like a Dustin Johnson."

Langer said his role model is Gary Player, a fitness wonder who was well ahead of his time in that area.

"He represents to me the perfect athlete," Langer said. "He's worked out all his life and it pays off.

"Gary's 80 now, or somewhere thereabouts, and he can still make a full shoulder turn and do all sorts of stuff that 50-year-olds can't do. He's my example, my golfing idol."

Langer, in turn, has become an idol for many golfers as he's shown that it's possible to maintain and even improve one's game, even on life's back nine.

That was spotlighted at this year's Masters when Langer was among the leaders through three rounds. Langer said he received a lot of positive feedback after the Masters, particularly from people in his demographic.

"People like to see one of their same age-group guys do well," he said. "They love the underdog to do well, and at my age I'm certainly the underdog against the 20- and 30-year-olds who hit it way past me. I've had some fantastic feedback and great comments and encouragement. It's wonderful. It gives them hope that they can get better.

"I say it almost every week. I still feel I can get better at this game. I think I've proven it to some extent. It gives everyone else hope that plays this game, whether they do it professionally or just for fun." 

This article was written by Dennis Punzel from The Wisconsin State Journal and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.