Bernhard Langer isn’t immortal after all. It just feels that way
At an age — 65! — by which many pros have traded their golf clubs for pickle paddles and their Tour cards for ones issued by the AARP, Bernhard Langer is still knocking down flags on the PGA Tour Champions.
In 20 starts this season, he has 10 top-10 finishes, including a win — his 43rd-career Champions title — at the Chubb Classic in February. His 69.31 scoring average is sixth-best on tour and he’s 7th in the season-long Charles Schwab Cup points race, the senior circuit’s equivalent of the FedEx Cup.
Langer, now in his 16th season on the Champions, has been so good for so long that — like Tom Brady or Albert Pujols or Andre Iguodala — it’s hard to imagine his sport without him. And yet inevitably that day will come, must come … right? Yes? Maybe?
Ehh, who knows.
On Thursday, at the TimberTech Championship, in Boca Raton, Fla., Langer was asked a question that forced him to face his own mortality: How long can he keep up the competitive golf thing full time?
“That’s a good question,” Langer began. “I’m getting closer to that where I’m thinking about it. So far I really haven’t thought about it much.”
That doesn’t sound like a man who’s ready for a retirement party at Chili’s, but that Langer is getting to a point where he’s going to at least ponder life after a golf is something new for him.
“I always said if I feel good, if I’m healthy, I enjoy what I’m doing and I’m somewhat successful, I’ll continue,” he went on. “All these three things are still in place, so there’s no reason to stop at this point in time. Hopefully I know when to quit and I don’t go way beyond.”
Waiting isn’t the hardest part. Quitting is. Especially when you’ve had a senior career like Langer’s: second-most wins ever; 11 major titles; 11 seasons leading the money list; senior career Grand Slam; and on and on.
On the regular Tour, players used to face endless questions about Tiger Woods. On the Champions tour, that role is occupied by Langer. How, his peers are constantly asked, has he done it so well for so many years?
“He’s somebody I would have probably admired the most as a pro,” Padraig Harrington, a mere whippersnapper at 51, said Thursday. “He’s the most professional out there, he’s a pro’s pro, he’s got the most out of his game. It doesn’t surprise me what he’s doing. He’s fit and strong, which is great motivation for the rest of us that we can see, you know what, keep yourself in shape, work hard, you can keep playing competitively as long as you have that drive. Bernhard really has kept the drive.”
Drive can stay with you forever, but skill cannot. Regardless of how many hours you log in the gym or how many kale smoothies you pound, the passage of time eventually catches up to every golfer in the form of lost power or diminished touch.
Often, putting is the first to go. “It could be two percent here, two percent there,” Langer said this week, knowing full well that a mere percentage point in the upper ranks of pro golf can be the difference between a T5 and a T50.
Langer was also asked what he finds most challenging as he’s aged.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” he said. “The body starts to ache here and there, and different parts of the body — it’s not always the same. Then just being away from family and friends is tough. I’ve been doing this 50 years now, because I turned pro when I was 15, so 50 years traveling and being away and all over the place, it takes its toll.
“I’ve learned to manage, I think, my time where I just play a little bit less and spend more time with family, with kids and now grandkids. I’m actually heading home to take pictures with all four grandkids in town right now. Things like that have become a priority over the years and it’s important. There’s got to be more to life than just golf. I’ve always tried to find that balance between family and private life away from the golf course and time to practice and compete.”
In the first round in Boca on Friday, Langer closed with three consecutive birdies to shoot a two-under 70. Just three off the pace, he’s where he almost always is: in the hunt.