CHARLES SCHWAB CUP
Langer lurking for record sixth Schwab Cup
November 08, 2019
By Randy Youngman, PGATOUR.COM
- November 08, 2019
- Bernhard Langer heads into the weekend with a chance at his sixth Schwab Cup. (Tracy Wilcox / PGA TOUR)
Will Bernhard Langer be the first player in history to win a PGA TOUR Champions title after turning 70?
That grabbed your attention, didn’t it?
Sorry, Langer is not yet approaching that age milestone. In August, he blew out only 62 candles on his birthday cake. And he is not likely to be competing on PGA TOUR Champions when he becomes a septuagenarian in the year 2027.
But never say never when Langer’s name is mentioned in a golf proposition. After all, he already has shattered the PGA TOUR Champions record with seven tournament titles after turning 60, and this weekend at Phoenix Country Club he'll be chasing what would be his record sixth Charles Schwab Cup in the season-long points race.
It would take a victory in the season-ending Schwab Cup Championship and help from points leaders Scott McCarron and Jerry Kelly for Langer to hoist the gleaming trophy again on Sunday. So far, Bernhard is getting the help, because McCarron and Kelly are tied for 25th, but a double-bogey 7 on the final hole of Friday’s second round dropped Langer (10-under after a 68) four shots behind leader Jeff Maggert (14-under after a 65) with 36 holes to play.
Retief Goosen (9-under in a tie for third) also has a chance to capture the Cup with a win if McCarron and Kelly continue to falter.
It looked as if Langer was maneuvering himself into position for another title run, drawing within one shot of the lead until Maggert holed a bunker shot for birdie on the 17th hole. But three uncharacteristically poor shots on the finishing hole spoiled what had been a solid round. After Langer’s tee shot found a fairway bunker, he hit what he called a “fat” layup on his second shot, then blocked a 9-iron approach right of the flagstick, the ball caroming down the slope into the water. After a penalty drop, he failed to get-up-down and had to settle for a disheartening double-bogey.
That means Langer will have to make up four shots in the final two days to have a chance to win his fifth Schwab Cup in six years. “I’ve just got to shoot low,” he said tersely upon emerging from the scoring area.
Regardless of where he finishes this week, Langer continues to find ways to win and break records while defying the conventional wisdom in a sport in which most players see their skills decline as they age. Most players. Langer is an exception to the rule. So is Jay Haas, who at 65 is the oldest player in the elite 34-player field this weekend and himself is a two-time winner after age 60.
“At 65, it was one my goals to be here, and I feel pretty good about it,” Haas said Friday after carding a 4-under 67 that left him tied for 21st. “But what Bernhard has done with seven wins (after 60) is pretty darn incredible. I think we all shake our heads (about what an accomplishment that is).
“It’s getting old hat. It's like he does it all the time, so it’s almost expected. And because it’s expected, I think people are quick to discount it, like it’s no big deal. But it is. Not many guys have done it this way.”
As Haas pointed out, the traditional window to contention on PGA TOUR Champions “used to be 50-55.” (Historically, 85 percent of PGA TOUR Champions winners have been between those ages since the inception of the 50-and-over tour in 1980.)
Langer, however, has continued play as if he is 10 years younger. In fact, 22 of his 40 PGA TOUR Champions titles – including two this season -- have come since he turned 57. Only fellow World Golf Hall of Famer Hale Irwin, with 45, has more career victories on tour.
If the majority of tour players his age are chronologically challenged, then Langer is chronologically gifted.
In that respect, he is the Nolan Ryan of golf. Ryan remained a power pitcher until his last pitch at age 46, even throwing his seventh no-hitter at 44. Langer also has been able to keep beating younger players, winning two or more titles in eight consecutive years.
In another respect, Langer is the Wayne Gretzky of golf. While Gretzky dominated the NHL for years, winning nine scoring titles and nine Hart Trophies as league MVP in a 10-year span, Langer has had his own decade of dominance. He has finished first or second in the Schwab Cup standings seven consecutive years, winning four Cups in the past five years. He’s also PGA TOUR Champion’s all-time money leader ($28 million-plus), winning 10 money titles in the past 11 seasons.
If you’re keeping score at home, here are the all-time win leaders by age:
** Most wins in the 20s: Tiger Woods, 46 PGA TOUR wins.
** Most wins in the 30s: Arnold Palmer 44, Ben Hogan 43.
** Most wins in the 40s: Vijay Singh 22.
** Most wins in the 50s: Hale Irwin 42 PGA TOUR Champions wins.
** Most wins in the 60s: Bernhard Langer 7 PGA TOUR Champions wins.
“It’s been an amazing run for me, personally,” Langer said during a recent interview. “I’ve been very blessed to have achieved (so much) and won the Schwab Cup five times. To be able to play this game at over 50, you need tremendous desire to keep working on your skills. You’ve also got to be healthy. . . . The game is hard enough when you’re healthy. So when you’re not healthy, it’s very difficult.”
Langer told PGATOUR.com that he was hampered “for a few weeks” earlier this year after an injury was “slightly misdiagnosed” initially. “I thought it was a rib injury, but it was a lower back (injury) referring pain to the ribs,” he said. “That set me back. When you play hurt, it changes a few things.”
Though Langer has always insisted that “age is just a number,” he concedes that he has had to change his workout regimen in recent years.
“I don’t practice as hard or as rigorous as I did in my teens, 20s and 30s,” Langer told PGATOUR.com. “First of all, the body can’t take it. I can’t beat hundreds and hundreds of balls every day anymore. I wear out. I get tired.
“I spend more time stretching and resting than I do hitting balls on the range or putting and chipping. And I do more light weights now. You lose strength and flexibility (as you age).”
Even so, Langer continues to successfully battle the younger players on tour. A new wave arrives every year to make it more difficult to win. This year, major champions Goosen and Darren Clarke joined PGA TOUR Champions. Next year, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson will be eligible to play at different junctures.
“There’s guys out here who hit it way past me, and there’s young blood coming every year, every few months,” he said. “I understand it’s going to be more of a challenge than ever before, but I still think I have the skill-set and capability of competing at the highest level. . . . I love the game, I love to compete.”
So don’t count out Langer this weekend, and don’t count him out as he continues to blow out more candles in the next few years.
Even, perhaps, when he’s 70.