Bernhard Langer enjoying competition and family time after turning 65
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Written by Bob McClellan @ChampionsTour
Fine wines wish they aged like Bernhard Langer.
The six-time Charles Schwab Cup winner turned 65 on Aug. 27. He said it wasn’t much different than turning 64. He got lots of hugs and kisses “and funny birthday cards” from his grandchildren upon returning home from the Ally Challenge in Michigan, where he finished T28 after shooting a 3-under 69 during the second round on his birthday. It was his low round of the tournament, though not quite what he did last Aug. 27.
“I shot 64 on my 64th birthday,” Langer recalled recently. “That was the first time I had done it in competition (in the first round at last year’s Ally).
“That’s certainly one positive thing to look at (about turning 65). It’s a little easier to shoot my age. Hopefully I get a little wiser as well, not just gray hair without anything else.”
Langer is a sure bet to shoot a few 65s down the stretch of the 2022 season. But even he acknowledged another Schwab Cup, at least for this year, is almost assuredly out of reach.
“I’m quite a bit behind a number of our very top players, and they’re all playing well,” said Langer, who sits eighth in the Schwab Cup standings and more than a million dollars behind both leader Steven Alker and No. 2 Padraig Harrington. “It’s not easy. If you’re a million behind one guy maybe you can hope to make it up. But I’m far behind five or six guys and they’re all very good players. It’s hard to gain that much on everybody. To win the Schwab Cup is unrealistic.”
It's an odd statement to see from Langer, who heretofore had made the Schwab Cup run through him. His Champions Tour dominance is unparalleled. He has 43 victories, second to Hale Irwin. He has the record for oldest to win on PGA TOUR Champions, established in February when he won the Chubb Classic for the fourth time. That marked the third time he shot his age, when a first-round 64 propelled him to the victory.
Langer said it’s getting more difficult to hold his own with age. His length off the tee is actually up 2 yards from last year, but his rank in driving distance has gone from 39th to 59th. It’s a testament to how much farther the players entering PGA TOUR Champions are hitting driver.
For the 2020-21 elongated season because of COVID, Retief Goosen led in driving distance at 297.7 yards. So far this season, eight players are ahead of that pace, led by the rookie Harrington at a whopping 308.8.
“Yeah, it gets a little bit harder I think every year,” Langer said. “That’s normal, especially since we had strong group of young guys come out. I don’t have to tell you all the names. Most of them hit it quite a bit farther than me.
“Length is very important on any tour. If you can reach the par 5s and hit a 9-iron into par 4s instead of a 4-iron that makes a big difference. I still finished strong last year and had a good start this year. I had a couple of minor health issues. My body was hurting and aching. But at 65 you can’t complain.”
There probably are plenty of 55-year-olds who would gladly trade their games for that of Langer at 65. He’s happy with his ball-striking in 2022; he ranks 18th in greens in regulation.
If there’s one part of Langer’s game that he feels hasn’t been up to his standard this year, it’s putting. His putting average isn’t dramatically off year over year, but he believes he hasn’t gotten many to go down over the past two months.
Is it time to start slowing down? Langer’s competitive fire still burns, but he also really enjoys those grandkids who’ve livened up his recent birthdays.
“I usually play 22-25 tournaments a year,” Langer said. “That number might get a little bit less. I’ve been doing this for 50 years as a pro, and it’s time to enjoy the grandkids and family. And I need a little more rest. Traveling has gotten worse. The last year … so many flights have been canceled or delayed. I’ll probably play between15 and 20 a year in the future. But probably not the 25 that I have been doing. That’s a lot of golf.
“I’ve always said for me to continue to play golf -- and I’ve been saying this now for 20 years -- I’ve got to be healthy, or you can’t play the way you want to. Health is important. Second is I got to have some fun and I got to have some success. If one of those three is missing, it’s time to think about quitting. But we’re not there yet.”