Keeping Score

Ageless Langer takes aim at elusive Senior PGA title

Bernhard Langer may be the most underappreciated story in golf. His dominance of the PGA Tour Champions seems to know no bounds. 

Last year, Langer, 59, won the Arnold Palmer Trophy as the tour's leading money-winner for the eighth time in nine years since turning 50. The one time he failed to do so? He was sidelined for a stretch due to thumb surgery. No one else has won more than three.

Langer also collected the Charles Schwab Cup (his fourth) for the season-long points race, the Jack Nicklaus Trophy as player of the year (No. 6), and the Byron Nelson Award for the lowest scoring average (No. 5).

Jimmy Gabrielsen, the vice president of player relations for the PGA Tour Champions, needed to rent a Chevy Tahoe to deliver all of the trophies. 

Langer has to make room in his display case for more hardware after erasing a six-stroke deficit at the halfway point and shooting a final-round 64 on Sunday to lap the field at the Regions Tradition. In hoisting his 31st senior trophy, second all-time only to Hale Irwin's 45, Langer matched Nicklaus' record of eight PGA Tour Champions major titles.

"So thrilled to have done a small thing that Jack has done and maybe still having a chance to go one or two better," Langer said.

This week, Langer could break the tie at the one senior major that has eluded him. He got off to an ideal start Thursday, making a tap-in eagle on the par-5 18th hole at Trump National Golf Club-Washington D.C. in Potomac Falls, Va., to shoot 7-under 65 for the first-round lead.

When asked Feb. 8 at his pre-tournament news conference at the Allianz Championship what was left for him to accomplish, Langer didn't hesitate.

"Well, I haven't won the Senior PGA Championship," he said.

Langer is the favorite this week at the Senior PGA, where President Donald Trump is expected to appear Sunday after returning from a weeklong trip abroad. It might be a little awkward if POTUS is handing the trophy to Langeron Sunday. In late January, Langer's name made headlines and trended on Twitter when Trump, calling him a friend, mentioned Langer in remarks about alleged voter fraud.

The president said that Langer, a German who lives in south Florida, had told him about being turned away from a polling place while others who appeared to come from foreign countries were allowed to remain in line.

Langer, however, remains a German citizen and is ineligible to vote here. He has said that the voting story was about a friend of his and that it had been relayed to the president by yet another acquaintance. Langer also confirmed that Trump later phoned him and apologized for the confusion.

There's no confusing Langer's senior supremacy, or the high regard with which he is held by his peers. 

Fred Funk calls him "the German robot," and said, "I'd love to throw Bernhard in the salt-water ocean and see if he rusts."

"Remember," said Colin Montgomerie, "he's not 51, 52. He's 59 now."

And he's still kicking butt.

Rocco Mediate, the Senior PGA's defending champion, was asked to explain how Langer does it. 

"The ones that win the most have something," he said. "It's that 'something thing.' And they just keep winning and winning and winning, no matter what level it is. Bernhard won how many tournaments overseas?" 

Langer proudly stated at his winner's news conference last week that the Tradition was his 105th victory worldwide. Mediate remembers being paired with Langer during his rookie year on the senior circuit in 2013, and the first-tee starter attempted to list all of Langer's numerous triumphs.

"It took an hour," Mediate said. "We were late off the tee." 

It is all the more remarkable considering that Langer has overcome the yips four times and the U.S. Golf Association's anchoring ban last season. But there's one test that he couldn't pass. At the Insperity Invitational in Houston, Langer received the Dave Marr Award. The late Marr’s son, Dave III of Golf Channel, did the honors and shared this whimsical tale that personifies how much Langer loves the game.

As Langer approached high school age, his parents decided that the family should move so he could attend a better school. Langer had other considerations. He didn't want to move away from the local golf course where he caddied and learned the game. How did Langer foil his parents' noble plan? He tanked his math and English entrance exams, which prevented him from being admitted to the school, and the family didn't move. 

Langer seemingly has aced every test in senior golf. Despite his upcoming 60th birthday on Aug. 27, he is unfazed that only 23 tournaments – slightly more than 2 percent of the those contested on the Champions Tour – have been won by golfers 60 or older.

"There's always exceptions," Langer said. "I hope to be one of those exceptions."

Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf World and The New York Times. He is the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force. Email: golfsdrivingforce@gmail.com; Twitter: @adamschupak


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