Tuesday, May 11, 2021

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Bernhard Langer believes he still has room to improve at 63

Just for fun, Google “Chuck Norris jokes” but insert Bernhard Langer’s name. It works just the same.

When the Boogeyman goes to sleep at night, he checks his closet for Bernhard Langer.

Bernhard Langer doesn’t sleep. He waits.

Bernhard Langer has never blinked in his entire life. Never.

Once a rattlesnake bit Bernhard Langer’s leg. After five days of excruciating pain, the snake died.

Any disputes? The German, at 63 now, remains the dominant force on PGA TOUR Champions. How dominant? Check the statistics from the pandemic-shortened, 16-event 2020 season that will be wrapped in with the 24 events on this year’s schedule for a 40-event super season. He’s No. 1 on the Schwab Cup list, No. 1 in scoring, No. 1 in putting, No. 1 in birdies, No. 1 in top-10s.

His counterparts on TOUR have long since given up hope that eventually Langer will slow down.

“I think I just played very solid,” Langer said Thursday. “There was nothing spectacular or special about it. I lost in a playoff or two, had a lot of good finishes.

“I’m not as long … a lot of the new guys are long off the tee — Ernie (Els), Retief (Goosen), (Jim) Furyk. The competition is getting tougher, especially as I get older. I try to make up for it with other parts of my game.”

The infusion of new talent in 2020 was undeniable. Furyk won in his first two starts, and Phil Mickelson did the same. Els nearly won in his first start and went on to post two wins.

Just because they make it harder on him, Langer knows they’re good for the PGA TOUR Champions. And it’s not like he’s scared of any competition. He lives for it.

“It’s absolutely positive for our tour and positive for them too,” Langer said. “They had a blast. Ernie is full-time committed. Retief is full-time committed. Padraig Harrington told me he’s coming out (the Irishman turns 50 on Aug. 31). It’s a great tour and the guys are realizing it. Sooner or later I think Phil will play a bunch; it’s just a matter of when.”

They all can learn from Langer. No one grinds like he does. He’s a physical marvel, and mentally he’s tougher than a pine knot. In 10 events after play resumed on PGA TOUR Champions, Langer posted eight top-10 finishes, including five top-fives. By his estimation he had four or five chances to win in 2020; he converted only at the Cologuard Classic on March 1.

Langer said post-pandemic tournament golf has been a unique experience. It has affected each and every player, but not all in the same way.

“It’s definitely different and weird not having fans, no doubt about it,” Langer said. “It took some adjusting. There’s no feedback on shots. If you’re hitting to an elevated green and you can’t see the ball land, you just have to wait till you get there. I saw two holes-in-one last year and three people cheered.

“It was nice to see people at the Sanford International (in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the only event in which fans were allowed). We had 50,000 to 60,000 that week. We’re all hoping things will turn around and will get back to some kind of normal.”

No one is quite sure what normal is anymore, except to expect to see Langer’s name on the leaderboard at nearly every event. But he’s cognizant of the fact he’ll be turning 64 in August. And he actually was 62 when he won in Phoenix. If he adds to his 41 PGA TOUR Champions victories (second all-time to Hale Irwin’s 45) in 2021, he will become the oldest winner in history.

It’s hard to say what’s reasonable to expect. So much of what he already has done seems unreasonable. Even to Langer.

“I didn’t expect it myself,” Langer said. “I was hoping to be a top guy for a number of years but probably I’ve exceeded most of my own expectations. But I’ve put in work and dedication. And I believe you can still get better even as you get older.

“I really don’t know how much longer I can do this. I’ve never been this old before. The clock is ticking. It won’t be forever, that’s for sure.”

Time waits for no man. Unless that man is Bernhard Langer.

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