Langer's love of competition, family go hand in hand
November 04, 2021
By Bob McClellan, PGATOUR.COM
For years Bernhard Langer held a bible study every Monday night with six or seven guys from around his neighborhood in Boca Raton, Florida.
It didn’t matter what far-flung destination from which he was coming back to his home after a tournament on PGA TOUR Champions -- even a victory -- Langer would be there, on time, ready to go.
They’d study hard for an hour; Langer, 64, is serious about his Christian faith and very organized when it comes to interpreting Bible passages with his group. There were study guides and homework and spirited discussion. Then it would be time to unwind with some ping-pong.
“Unwind” might be a misnomer. Langer is almost as serious at the ping-pong table as he is standing over an 8-footer to win a golf tournament.
“There would be six or seven of us guys, and we’d all play at once,” said Rod Rice, 54, a neighbor and medical equipment salesman who befriended Langer about 15 years ago when lending him a laser to help with a wrist injury. Within weeks Langer had invited Rice to join his Bible study group. “Literally we’d all be around the table in a circle, and you hit a shot then started around the circle until someone missed and was eliminated. When it starts with seven or eight of us, it’s not so bad. But when you get down to three or four you’re really running around that table.
“You kept going around until there were only two guys left standing. Almost always one of them was Bernhard.”
Langer didn’t miss his calling in golf, obviously. But whether it’s ping-pong, skiing, cards, or tiddlywinks, if it’s a game in which there is a winner then Langer is going to try to be it.
It’s just his nature. Most high-level athletes are highly competitive; Langer is one of that handful whose competitiveness regularly scales Everest. It’s why, at an age when most golfers are barely hanging around on PGA TOUR Champions, he is on the verge of winning his sixth Charles Schwab Cup. He won the Dominion Energy Charity Classic, the first tournament of the three-event playoff, becoming the oldest player to win on the Champions Tour and pushing his Schwab Cup lead to more than 500,000 points over Jim Furyk.
The part of Langer that most people didn’t know about until his recent forays into social media, though, is that he’s genuinely funny. The stoic German machine of the 1980s and 1990s has given way to the jovial grandpa who recently went undercover as a bumbling groundskeeper at the Constellation Furyk & Friends tournament in Jacksonville, Florida.
'Hans' - the undercover maintenance guy. pic.twitter.com/L4etOe1obt— PGA TOUR Champions (@ChampionsTour) October 10, 2021
Actually, that’s not fair to say. It hasn’t given way. His fellow pros will tell you it was always there, Langer just never put it on display publically.
“I’ve known Bernhard forever, and he’s always been funny,” said Mark Calcavecchia, 61, who has had many an on-course duel with Langer over the past 30-plus years. “We used to stay together at (IMG founder) Mark McCormack’s house when we’d play Bay Hill in the early 1990s, and he was funny then.
“Look, he’s all business on the course. But away from the course he has a great personality. You’ve seen his workout videos where he jumps in his pool? He’s a very funny man. And you don’t have to be uptight with him. He doesn’t swear, but when we’re all in the fitness trailer getting stretched you’ll hear some ‘F-bombs’ fly, and it doesn’t bother him. He shrugs it off. He’s just one of the coolest guys out there.”
Shecky Langer. Who would have believed it?
“It's been great to see him engage more on social media,” said Jason Langer, 21, his youngest child. “I think it allows the public to get a glimpse of the more relaxed, fun side of him that presents a sharp contrast to his stoic, machine-like appearance while competing.
“I thought the undercover greenskeeper pranks he did a few weeks ago at the Furyk & Friends event were fantastic.”
“He has always been funny and personable, it’s just that most people see him when he is at work,” daughter Christina De Jong, 28, said. “When he is at work he is the most focused individual you will ever meet. I do think he has dropped his guard a little and let more people in. I love hearing people say that they didn’t know he was funny because he always has been, you just have to get to know him.”
Neighbor Jeff Shavitz met Langer at the golf club in which they’re both members about 15 years ago after Langer had put on a clinic at the club.
“He shared golf stories, performed trick shots, etc. and I said hello and thank you for the clinic,” said Shavitz, 55, the CEO of ToolBox Payment and co-owner of clickitgolf.com. “And then for some reason I said in a joking fashion, ‘I would like to play you in a sport to see who is a better athlete; however, it cannot be golf because I’m assuming you are better than me.’ His quick response was, ‘OK, how about ping-pong later this afternoon and come over to my house as I have a table set up.’
“I was in shock. Did a two-time Masters champion just invite me to his home? I don’t even know him. What do I wear for my blind ping pong date? … He seems so serious watching him on tv and he approached the ping-pong with the same intensity and desire to win.
Shavitz got waxed at the ping-pong table. But it was the start of a friendship that has gone on for more than 15 years now.
“We have become incredibly close friends, play a lot of ping-pong together,” Shavitz said. “Years into our ping-pong matches, I bought him a $5 dollar plastic ping-pong trophy as a gag gift. We now play our matches and the winner takes home the trophy similar to the Ryder Cup trophy, and only slightly less prestigious.”
Jason Langer can verify that his father is both very good and very competitive about ping-pong.
“We played often when I was growing up and it took me until around age 16 to beat him,” said Jason, who teamed with his dad to win the PNC Championship in 2014 and ’19. “He and I are pretty even in ping-pong skill these days, so the game always makes for some excitement when I'm home. I'd love to see my dad play against Matt Kuchar as Kuch's talent has been rumored.”
Rice said he simply doesn’t have the talent to match Bernhard at the ping-pong table but has on occasion one-upped his friend on the putting green.
“If you do win $5 off him he won’t sign it,” Rice said. “I said, ‘Bernhard, will you sign that $5?’ and he says, ‘Absolutely not. If I do that you’ll hang it by your front door and every time I walk in I’m gonna have to see it.’”
Somehow, Langer balances being the best golfer on the planet over the age of 50 with family and his growing following on social media (plus 25K).
His children (Jackie, 35; Stefan, 31; Christina and Jason) adore him. Both of the girls and Stefan are married; each has had their first child since the start of 2020.
“His name is Opa, which is Grandpa in German,” De Jong said. “Dad has always been great with kids. If there were kids around he was on the floor playing with them. Even now that is how he is. He is down on the floor with his two grandsons and granddaughter playing at their level. There is a sparkle in his eye when he talks about them or is with them. It’s the sweetest thing.”
“I think I'm most proud of him for a combination of his character and dedication to his family,” Jason Langer said. “He is the ultimate sportsman who embodies values of integrity, respect and grit. And while competing requires him to travel often, he always made an effort to spend time with me and the rest of my family, which was incredibly meaningful growing up.”