By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM
SAVANNAH, Ga. – Rocco Mediate loves his new life on the Champions Tour, understandable considering he won in his first start earlier this season and has settled into fourth in the Schwab Cup race.
But as the weeks have passed, he has found the sore spot on the 50-and-over circuit.
“Everything’s really great about the Champions Tour except that guy,” Mediate said. “Because he is amazing. He works his butt off, still.”
“Still” being at age 55, where perhaps Tour players start to wane a little in terms of being in contention every time they tee it up. Out of last year’s Schwab Cup top 10, only No. 10 Jay Haas was north of 55. So far in this year’s top 10, only John Cook (also 55) and Langer represent the 55-and-over crowd.
But Langer is a resounding No. 1, with two wins in the first six events of the season including last week’s Greater Gwinnett Championship. He has five top 10s in those six events and has a healthy early lead in the season-long points race, by 309 over David Frost.
And as if to add to the bad news for the likes of Mediate and others on Tour, Langer arrives this week at the Liberty Mutual Insurance Legends of Golf paired again with Tom Lehman, the two-time defending Schwab Cup champion. They won the event as a team in 2009.
“If you were betting in Vegas, there’s no way you couldn’t bet on those guys,” said Steve Elkington, who is playing with fellow rookie Mediate.
Lehman, by his own admission, is off to a slow start, but three top 10s in five starts and a seventh-place standing in Schwab Cup is one that many of his peers would happily take. And he appears to be heating up, with a T2 last week at Gwinnett, behind his teammate.
In the last 20 events on the Champions Tour dating to the middle of last season, Langer and Lehman have won six.
“My expectation level’s high, and the competition level is extremely good so I think we all push each other,” Lehman said. “Bernhard’s raised the bar this year, so everybody knows where they have to pick it up.”
Mediate saw where.
“He was there (Wednesday) all day, and the day before all day,” Mediate said. “I watch, I see what guys are up to. And that’s what it takes.”
That’s Langer, hard at it on Thursday too at The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort, settling in on the range in the late afternoon after an 8:50 a.m. pro-am tee time and early-afternoon media obligations.
“I never had a problem with working hard,” Langer said. “My parents grew up through the war, the end of the war, and they had nothing. I was a little kid and I watched my parents work 16-hour days, and many times seven days a week.
“Whether it’s from them, I have no idea. But I don’t mind work. The more I prepare, the better I’m prepared and ready to play, the more I can expect.”
In recent years at the Masters, the two-time champion Langer said he was looking to just make the cut, then realized that was a ‘terrible mindset.’ His game was plenty good enough on the Champions Tour (he won the Schwab Cup in 2010, before Lehman began his two-year run), and he decided to take that mindset to Augusta National.
That led to Lehman’s phone buzzing in church two Sundays ago with a friend’s text: “Hey, your buddy’s at it again.”
Lehman snuck the phone out of his pocket and in the middle of the sermon saw that Langer had birdied the first three holes on Sunday. As it turned out, of course, Langer faded on the second nine, but it didn’t lessen the feat.
If it was a feat at all.
“I think it proves once again the quality of the play out here,” Lehman said. “Time and time again, there’s guys who are our age who go play in big events who have great weeks and are in contention.”
On the Champions Tour, every week is a contending one for Langer. He’s that guy giving everyone else fits.