PGA TOUR Champions season comes to a close with bright future ahead
November 19, 2021
By Randy Youngman, PGATOUR.COM
- November 19, 2021
Bernhard Langer wins sixth Charles Schwab Cup
The symbolism was unmistakable.
As Phil Mickelson and Bernhard Langer, the youngest and oldest superstars on PGA TOUR Champions, hoisted the Tour’s most prestigious trophies this past Sunday in Phoenix, it was as if the torch was being passed.
Mickelson, 51, birdied three of the final four holes at Phoenix Country Club to win the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship, enabling Langer, 64, to hold off Jim Furyk and win his record sixth Charles Schwab Cup in the wraparound season-points race.
The significance was not lost on Langer, the most dominant player in PGA TOUR Champions history, with 42 titles (a record nine since turning 60) and a record $31.9 million in earnings.
“It will probably be my last one—I’m almost sure of that,” Langer said of the Schwab Cup. Smiling, he also noted, “I’m just lucky Phil’s not playing more” on PGA TOUR Champions.
That’s because Mickelson won four of his first six Champions events since becoming eligible for the 50-and-over Tour, a feat accomplished only once previously, by Jack Nicklaus. In contrast, Langer played in 39 events during the wraparound season, needing two wins and 24 top-10 finishes to win another points title and the $1 million annuity bonus.
For obvious reasons, Mickelson, a 45-time PGA TOUR winner who earlier this year won the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island to become the oldest major champion in history, is not ready to commit to playing full-time on PGA TOUR Champions.
“I’m hoping to use the opportunity to play and compete here as a way to keep my game sharp and have a few special moments on the regular Tour, like I had this year in May,” Mickelson said Sunday after winning the Charles Schwab Cup Championship by one shot over Steven Alker, the Champions’ break-out surprise performer this season, with nine top-10s in his first 10 starts to become fully exempt on Tour through 2022.
“If I could have a couple more of those, that’s really what motivates me to work hard, to get in the gym in the offseason, put in the time and the effort to have those special moments. I would love to have a couple more. And then these are great, too.”
Regardless of how often Mickelson plays on PGA TOUR Champions in 2022, Champions veteran Paul Goydos is bullish on the Tour’s future.
“Our Tour has never been in better shape,” said Goydos, whose final-round 63 was the low round on Sunday and vaulted him into a tie for seventh place.
During a phone interview this week, Goydos cited the star power on PGA Tour Champions, which has been driving fan interest and TV ratings. There were seven World Golf Hall of Famers in the 35-man field at Phoenix last week: Langer, Mickelson, Ernie Els, Fred Couples, Retief Goosen, Vijay Singh and Colin Montgomerie.
“I heard people say, ‘Why would Mickelson play on the Champions Tour?’ ” Goydos said. “Because it’s what we do. We love playing golf.
“I was watching him last week in Phoenix, and he was working on his game as hard as anyone. I think he’ll play a few more (Champions) events next year. And eventually, it’ll be where he plays (full-time).”
Goydos pointed out that Furyk (second in the final Schwab Cup standings) and Ernie Els (fourth in standings) played full Champions schedules this year and “will know the courses better and improve” going forward. He also believes that Steve Stricker (20th in standings, with two wins and 11 top-10s in 13 events) will play more now that his Ryder Cup captain duties are behind him.
“And David Duval and Justin Leonard will soon be coming out (on PGA TOUR Champions),” Goydos said. “The talent is always going to get better out here—
just as I get older.”
Goydos laughed. He’s 57 and a five-time winner on PGA TOUR Champions, his most recent title in 2017.
Duval, a former World No. 1 and 13-time PGA TOUR winner, turned 50 during Schwab Cup Championship week and likely will debut at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Hawaii in January.
Leonard, a 12-time PGA TOUR winner (including 1997 British Open), becomes eligible for the Champions Tour on June 15, 2022. Next year’s rookie class also includes Brian Gay, Y.E. Yang and Notah Begay.
Langer will be back to defend his latest Schwab Cup title in 2022, but he also will be coming off knee surgery in his native Germany, where he traveled the day after winning the Schwab Cup. And he turns 65 next year.
Bernhard Langer is not done.— PGA TOUR Champions (@ChampionsTour) November 15, 2021
“Father Time doesn’t get beat very often, but what Langer did this year is so impressive,” Goydos said. “The longer the season (spread over two calendar years because of the pandemic), the more impressive it is.”
Langer became the oldest PGA TOUR Champions winner last month (64 years, 1 month, 27 days), and last week, with a 63 in the third round in Phoenix, he shot lower than his age for the first time in his career.
Even if Langer concedes his championship window is closing, Goydos is not so certain.
“I wouldn’t put it past him,” Goydos said.