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Langer among headliners at Toshiba Classic

Germany’s Bernhard Langer has racked up a slew of titles during his professional golf career.

He has 61 international victories to his credit, and of his three PGA Tour victories, two of them earned him the Green Jacket at the Masters. Langer has also won the Toshiba Classic on the PGA Tour Champions series, and he’s back to compete in the three-day tournament, which starts Friday at Newport Beach Country Club.

Throughout all of his success, Langer has been able to appreciate it all. He never became numb to the excitement of winning, or the privileges of being a professional golfer, due to his humble beginnings.

“I come from a very humble, poor family background,” Langer shared. “It makes me appreciate what I have. I didn’t grow up in a rich family and you’re part of a country club right away and everything is given to you. I had to earn it. I had to buy my own first clubs. They weren’t handed to me.

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“I didn’t have a lesson for seven years, couldn’t afford it. So I appreciated when I did have a first lesson.”

Langer said he started out as a caddie when he was about 8½ years old, working at the hilly, nine-hole course of the Augsburg Country Club, which was just five miles from his home.

From that work, he was able to afford his own set of clubs, and he turned pro at the age of 15. Even then, Langer recalled some lean years when he had first started touring, sleeping in his car at times.

Langer, now 60, recognizes that much has changed since then. One thing that has not is his competition. Most of his colleagues have found their way to the PGA Tour Champions, a 50-and-older senior circuit.

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“I’m playing against the same guys I played all my life,” Langer said, listing Tom Lehman, Fred Couples and Mark O’Meara to name a few.

When he first became eligible to join the PGA Tour Champions, Langer claimed the 2008 Toshiba Classic crown. He says that the tour has become increasingly more challenging.

“The last 10 years, the competition is getting fiercer and harder as time goes on,” he said, pointing to the premium of 78 starting slots available in the field at PGA Tour Champions events.

The Charles Schwab Cup money list is evidence of the growing competition. Tour leader Jerry Kelly ($437,683) and third-place David Toms ($333,573) are scheduled to make their first appearances at the Toshiba Classic.

Kelly was the PGA Tour Champions Rookie of the Year in 2017.

After playing the Toshiba Classic course at the Newport Beach Country Club on Tuesday, Langer said he felt the course would favor the competitors with the biggest swing off the tee.

“They took a lot of trees out,” Langer said. “It’s a lot more open, so I feel it favors the long hitters a lot more now. All of the bunkering is about 260-265 [yards away], and some of the trees are stopping around that mark.

“If you can carry it 270 in the air, you have a huge advantage now that you didn’t have before.”

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The tournament is scheduled for Friday through Sunday. Pro-Am play will continue on Thursday.

Couples pulls out with back injury

Newport Beach resident Fred Couples withdrew from the tournament on Wednesday due to a lingering back injury.

The 1992 Masters champion is one of three golfers to be a repeat winner of the Toshiba Classic. He won the event in 2010 and 2014. Jay Haas (2007, 2016) and Hale Irwin (1998, 2002) are the others to have accomplished the feat.

Blaine McCallister joins the field as the first alternate. The 59-year-old has five career PGA Tour victories.

In an interesting coincidence, Couples and McCallister roomed together while attending the University of Houston. Jim Nantz, a CBS Sports broadcaster, was also a roommate of theirs.

andrew.turner@latimes.com

Twitter: @ProfessorTurner


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