The road back from injury is never easy. It requires abundant amounts of perseverance and determination. Anyone who knows Bernhard Langer knows there is no shortage of either in his golf or his life.
Langer is fit again and ready to pick up where he left off last year at the ACE Group Classic. He won the title in the third official event of the 2011 Champions Tour season and it seemed inevitable that he would continue his form of previous years. In 2010, Langer won his third straight Player of the Year award, two major championships and his first Charles Schwab Cup title.
He was on a roll.
Last season began with Langer posting his 14th career victory on the Champions Tour in Naples. In March he suffered an injury in a biking accident. It required surgery to repair ligament damage in the left thumb and kept him sidelined for nearly three months.
The injury and the subsequent recovery time changed the course of the season for Langer. The goal this year is to reverse course again. Aside from the thumb problem, Langer, 54, is remarkably fit.
"I never had surgery before last year," he said. "Over the years, I had a few minor aches and pains. I've had lower back pain, neck pain and forearm issues here and there, but never surgery. The thumb is a little better now."
While the surgery has been successful, arthritis in the joints has become an issue.
"I played in Hawaii and for the first time in awhile, I felt like I could go at it full bore," said Langer, who finished T15 at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship.
"I wasn't holding back. When I started this season, I felt like I didn't have to change my swing because of the thumb and that was the case when I did come back from the surgery last summer. I was in so much pain at times that I think my golf swing changed a little bit. I changed the direction of my swing plane and now I have to find my way back."
For Langer, that means finding a way back into the winner's circle. Nothing less will do.
"I do have the same passion and I still love to win," he said. "My goals are to win tournaments and be in contention every week. I still think I can win more major titles on the Champions Tour. Ideally, I still think I can be near the top of the money list and the Charles Schwab Cup standings at the end of this year."
Langer has 76 victories worldwide in his career. He's won 14 times on the Champions Tour, and his PGA TOUR titles included two victories in the Masters.
David Frost, Bernhard Langer, Nick Price, and Peter Senior all found success on the Champions Tour in 2011.
Langer won the Administaff Small Business Classic in 2007, three times in 2008 and four events in 2009. But his first major on the Champions Tour didn't happen until 2010 -- and then he won majors in back-to-back weeks at the Senior British Open at Carnoustie and the U.S. Senior Open at Sahalee. He values the titles on the Champions Tour because he appreciates how difficult they have been to achieve.
"The competition was tougher than I thought it was going to be when I turned 50, and it has only gotten better with each group of new players that comes onto the Champions Tour," Langer said.
"There are now some very good players on the Champions Tour. What I've really noticed over the last few years is that we have some guys who can really bomb the ball off the tee. Guys like John Huston and Russ Cochran really hit it a long way."
Langer had it going himself last year at Broken Sound.
"I remember coming there with a new driver with a new shaft," he said. "I was hitting it very well on the driving range early in the week and that carried over into the tournament. I putted pretty good as well.
"I remember on more than one occasion in the final round there was a two-shot swing in my favor. Mark Calcavecchia got off to a good start on that Sunday and he got close to me early in the final round but hit a drive in the hazard. I made birdie on that same hole. I think somewhere early on the back nine, I got up-and-down from a greenside bunker and Calcavecchia missed a nine-footer for birdie on the same hole."
There was a recurring theme to the victory. It was the third Florida win for Langer on the Champions Tour compared to zero during his PGA TOUR career. The non-Masters victory came in South Carolina at Sea Pines.
"I really can't explain it," he said. "I remember I had a chance to win the Honda Classic in 1987 but Mark Calcavecchia beat me there because I putted so poorly on the last day of the tournament. I really didn't have too many other chances to win in Florida when I played the PGA TOUR. Perhaps it's because I live in Florida now and have adjusted to the conditions better as I've gotten older."