Some day, Bernhard Langer’s time will be up. Of course, people have been thinking that for a while.
Langer is the PGA Tour Champions reigning force of nature. A 60-year-old savant on the golf course whose game is so precise, consistent and timeless that he has dominated the circuit for far longer than most players could envision.
Langer had a Hall of Fame career on the PGA Tour; he won three tournaments, including the Masters in 1985 and 1993, and won more than 60 professional events worldwide before starting his Champions career in 2007. Still, the German’s enduring success on the 50-and-over circuit has exceeded all expectations.
Last year, he won seven events, including three Champions majors, and led the tour’s money list for the ninth time in 10 years. Three of his 36 Champions victories came after he turned 60 last August, the only player other than Hale Irwin to have done that. He has won well over 100 professional tournaments worldwide since turning pro in 1972.
“Bernard is the perfect storm,” said Jay Haas, in Newport Beach to defend his title in the Toshiba Classic this week. “His health has been good, he takes care of himself, he’s the ultimate grinder. He’s very efficient; the stereotypical efficient German engineer, that’s him.”
Haas was 62 when he won this tournament in 2016. It wasn’t played last year because of a scheduling change with the tour.
As he does in each tournament, Langer will have plenty of competition, particularly from some of the players in the early stages of their Champions careers. Last year's rookie of the year Jerry Kelly and David Toms — a pair of 51-year-olds who stand No. 1 and 3 on the money list after the first four events — are in the field, along with No. 5 Mark Calcavecchia and No. 7 Colin Montgomerie.
Tom Lehman, Jose Maria Olazabal, Mark O’Meara, Tom Watson, Miguel Angel Jimenez and last year’s Schwab Cup Championship winner Kevin Sutherland also begin the three-round, no-cut event Friday at the 6,584-yard, par-71 Newport Beach Country Club.
Fred Couples withdrew Wednesday because of chronic back issues.
Langer’s best finish this season was a second at the Boca Raton Championship in early February. That doesn’t mean he has set his sights any lower than in the past.
“It’s not going to be different from the last five, six, seven seasons,” he said of his 2018 expectations. “I mean, I’ve come off maybe one of my best seasons ever, winning three majors and seven titles ...
“I realize I’m 60 now so it’s going to get harder every year, but my goals are still the same. I would like to win majors, win tournaments, improve myself, maybe win the money list, the Schwab Cup player of the year …”
Langer has been known throughout his career as a solid striker of the ball, accurate off the tee and to the green. But for much of his career he was beset with putting problems. He has been using a long putter for years and has become one of the top putters on the tour.
Last year, he was first in putting average, first in birdie average, first in total driving and first in scoring.
“I had a lot of putting issues over a stretch of years,” he said. “I probably could have won another 20, 30 tournaments and several majors if I wouldn’t have had the putting issues.”
Watson, 68, said the combination of factors that make Langer so special are "solid gold."
“First thing is he can really play, he can really score,” Watson said. “The second thing is he keeps himself in marvelous shape, he’s strong and supple. The third thing is he is better prepared than anybody out here. ... He studies the golf course. You add those together, it's pretty tough to beat him.”
That can’t last forever. But however long the ride, Langer is enjoying it.
“When I came out here I had high expectations,” he said. “I worked hard at my game and was hoping to be one of the dominant guys.
“Have I exceeded it? Yes, I think I have. I don’t think I ever dreamt of winning 10 senior majors, more than anybody else, or to win 36 times … in a stretch of 10 years, that’s an amazing achievement, I think.”