A 61-year-old does the Masters just a little differently than most every other player.
He’ll spend the week – all week, if he’s just too darn stubborn to realize a man his age shouldn’t be doing anything rash like making the cut – trudging up and rappelling down the miles of green hills.
He’ll play a different course than everyone else, hitting it 40 yards shorter than these whelps – why he has ball markers older than them. He certainly has children as old and older than them.
While everyone else is carrying hills and corners, he’s down in the valley or before the bend. The par 5s considered generally reachable are specifically out of the question for him.
Then, in the case of Bernhard Langer, after you do all this and acquit yourself proudly, what is all that anyone wants to know? What was it like watching Tiger Woods win again, and then queuing up at the end of the receiving line for him as he returned to the clubhouse? (It was, by the way, “very cool,” said Langer, the 1985 and ’93 Masters champ. “We were sitting up in the champions locker room watching it on TV and some of us decided: Let’s put our jackets on, go down there and just congratulate him in person.”)
(That was also a very classy move.)
So, excuse Langer if he reported to this week’s Mitsubishi Electric Classic at TPC Sugarloaf a bit tuckered out.
“Yeah, it feels like you played two tournaments in one,” he said before returning to his own weight class, the over-50 PGA Tour Champions. “It’s just that kind of terrain. And mentally on top that, you know one bad shot at the wrong time you might make double bogey and shoot yourself in the foot.”
This weekend in a more metropolitan part of Georgia, Langer returns to the Tour he has dominated for the past decade. And still, even here among peers, his age can be a topic of conversation.
“There have been a few comments about that from some players: When is he going to get old?” smiled Kevin Sutherland, a mere 54-year-old member of the second-chance tour.
“Not like it’s going to happen anytime soon,” he concludes.
Langer is entering that intersection of age and accomplishment where only the most physically enduring and competitively stubborn visit.
At Augusta, he is a barreling down on oldest-to-ever-make-the-cut territory. That would be 63-year-old Tommy Aaron. “That’s not necessarily one of my goals, but as long as feel like I’m not making a fool of myself, I’m going to keep playing. I don’t want to go around there and shoot in the 80s every day and miss the cut by 15 shots,” he said. His scorecard at this Masters: 71-72-75-78.
And back with his peers, Langer is closing in on a record that some thought unreachable, Hale Irwin’s 45 victories on the real senior circuit. Langer, who has one win already this season despite missing two events because of injury, and has had multiple wins each of the past seven seasons, has 39 career wins on the PGA Tour Champions.
Clearly this does not dominate Langer’s thoughts, but he does say, “Yeah, I’m getting closer. Years ago, I said it’s very unlikely but not impossible. I’m sneaking up.”
Langer’s hold on this tour is as yet unyielding. He has been its player of the year eight years, including the past five. Only Sutherland has interrupted what could have been a five-year streak now of consecutive Schwab Cup titles (the FedEx Cup of the over-50 tour). And that was by a quirk of the points system that has since been corrected – for Langer won seven times in 2017 to Sutherland’s one, and still lost the cup.
And he’s atop the Schwab Cup points again, here early in 2019.
“He’s timeless,” said Sutherland, currently second in points. “Nothing is left to chance with him. He works very hard at it.”
Langer admits to an almost crippling weakness for sweets – “which needs to change,” he said – yet he hides it behind a flinty build.
There are days when it may be damp and cold that he is tempted to wait until the sun comes out before hitting his next bag of balls. But Langer is always the son of a bricklayer from the small German town of Anhausen. So, invariably, he will go out and hit the balls. “I don’t do things half-heartedly, (or else) I might as well stay home,” he said. “If I just show up to be on vacation, there’s a better place to go on vacation than to play golf here under competitive circumstances.”
The body aches. Langer can’t escape the consequences of time. “It’s more and more where things are just not like they used to be,” he said. “I’m trying to make the best of it, and it’s no good complaining because nobody is really interested anyways. They don’t want to hear about your aches and pains.”
It’s just that Langer has made it a habit to compete in ways not natural to those of his years and with his deep well of success. He is the Hall of Famer with something left to play for. It’s what he knows; it’s who he is.
He’ll say this, describing an urgency he still brings to the course: “Only so many years left (to play). Father time is ticking on.”
And then go out and turn the hands of clock backward, as if they were always meant to go that direction for him.
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