Ryder Cup

In Best Form of His Life, Bernhard Langer Takes a Swing at Golf History

Bernhard Langer at the final round of the 2014 U.S. Senior Open Championship in July. Source: Getty
Bernhard Langer at the final round of the 2014 U.S. Senior Open Championship in July.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Bernhard Langer, Germany’s best-known pro golfer, at age 56 has the chance to become the oldest player ever named to a Ryder Cup team.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • With 22 tournament victories since 2007, Mr. Langer is the most successful golfer ever on the seniors tour.
    • He has pocketed almost $15 million on the senior circuit, more than the $4 million he earned in 30 years in Europe and the United States.
    • Mr. Langer won the British Senior Open on July 27 by a record 13 strokes, sparking talk of his possible placement on Europe’s Ryder team.
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    Audio

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There could be no greater praise from a defeated adversary.

“What Bernhard Langer showed here is one of the most outstanding performances in the history of the sport of golf,” enthused golfer Colin Montgomerie.

The Scotsman and his fellow players had just been outclassed at the British Senior Open in Porthcawl, Wales by the German golf legend.

Mr. Langer won the over-50 tournament on July 27 by a record 13 strokes, leaving his rivals in the dust.

“That was very unusual,” Mr. Langer said with his typical modesty. “Something like that doesn’t normally happen at such a top event.”

But instead of savoring his unique achievement, the 56-year-old hopped on a plane a day later to the United States to prepare for his next tournament.

Such meticulousness might be standard operating procedure for Mr. Langer, but he is in such good form at the moment that a discussion in Europe has broken out about a possible Ryder Cup team nomination. The popular tournament pits the best golf players from America and Europe against each other every two years.

“Bernhard is a great team player and I would seriously consider him if I were Paul McGinley,” said former Europe captain Tony Jacklin.

Ireland’s Mr. McGinley is the current head of European team for the upcoming Ryder Cup competition in Gleneagles, Scotland in September. While nine players will qualify based on their rankings on the European tour, Mr. McGinley is free to pick three other members of his team.

Teeing up history

If Mr. Langer is chosen, he would make history by becoming the oldest Ryder Cup player. It would also mean there would be two Germans representing Europe for the first time, since Martin Kaymer is considered a shoo-in after dominating the U.S. Open a few weeks ago.

“Now I know how it feels when he wins the U.S. Open by eight strokes,” said Mr. Langer.

“Even if younger players had been there at Porthcawl, they never would have beaten him.”

Former Ryder Cup captain Tony Jacklin

But whereas Mr. Kaymer’s rise to the top of global golf came as a surprise, Mr. Langer has played at the highest levels for years. Since switching to the seniors tour in 2007, he’s won an incredible 22 tournaments, making him the most successful European seniors player of all time. In this season alone he’s booked four wins and five other times placed in the top three.

His victory at the British Senior Open was his second major’s title in a row, after winning the Players Championship a month earlier. Mr. Langer has won four senior majors overall and has pocketed almost $15 million (€11.2 million) in prize money since 2007. That’s $4 million more than he took home over his 30-year career on the European and U.S. tours.

In top form

But does his great form on the senior tour mean he is up to facing younger competitors? Mr. Jacklin believes so.

 

Bernhard Langer on Aug. 3, 2014, at the 3M Championship at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, Minnesota. Source AFP
Bernhard Langer yesterday,at the 3M Championship at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, Minnesota. Source: AFP

 

“Even if younger players had been there at Porthcawl, they never would have beaten him,” he said.

And Mr. Montgomerie is equally convinced of his long-term rival. “Rory McIlroy and his friends will have to try and match such a performance,“ he said.

That Mr. Langer can still play with the world’s best golfers became clear last April, when he came eighth at the U.S. Masters, where he has a lifetime starting spot as a former winner. He even beat the younger Mr. Kaymer by five strokes.

As tough at the touring circuit must be for someone of his age, Mr. Langer clearly is in the form of his life. Chalk it up to constant training and a healthy portion of ambition. He also makes up for lacking shot distance with an unusually good short game, which has possibly never been better in during his career.

Off to the Olympics?

With his 11th Ryder Cup looking likely, especially in light of the importance of having experienced players on the team, Mr. Langer might actually be eyeing another competition entirely.

In 2016, golf will be an Olympic event for the first time in 112 years at the Games in Rio de Janeiro.

“Naturally Bernhard Langer is a topic, but we have to stick to the nominating criteria,” said Katja Bayer from the German Golf Association.

That could make things tough for Mr. Langer, since victories on the over-50 Champions Tour do not contribute to the world ranking. The then 58-year-old would need once again to make golfing history by winning an event like the U.S. Masters in 2016. But that no longer seems so inconceivable.

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