Berhard Langer leads a contingent of senior golfers who show the young guns how it’s done at the Masters each year
By Robin Barwick
Bernhard Langer did it again at last year’s Masters. It has become virtually an annual defiance of age, of logic. Aged 58 last April at Augusta National, Langer finished in a tie for 24th to post his third top-25 finish in the Masters over the past four years.
And that was after a final round of 79 saw the German veteran make a late slide down the leaderboard. He began Masters Sunday in a tie for third place with Hideki Matsuyama, partnered with the Japanese star in the penultimate pairing, just two shots off Jordan Spieth’s third-round lead. By the way, Spieth was born three months after Langer won his second Green Jacket in 1993.
“For a 58-year-old, it’s fun to be in this position and play with the best in the world,” said Langer at the time. “When I play really, really good, when I bring my ‘A’ game, I can still compete, even on a very long golf course like this.”
In considering his return to Augusta this year, Langer recently told ParGolf: “One of the advantages I have at Augusta National is that I have been there many, many times. I have played hundreds of rounds at Augusta and I have a lot more experience that the younger guys.
“But then a definite disadvantage is my shot distance. I am on average 20 to 40 yards shorter than some of these young guys off the tee, which then means I have to hit a lot of hybrids and 3-irons into the par-4 greens, whereas the younger guys are hitting four or five clubs less. They might be two clubs nearer to the green than I am, and they hit their irons further than I do, so when I hit a 4-iron into a green, they might take an 8-iron. You can control an 8-iron much better than a 4-iron. That is my biggest disadvantage.”
When Langer shot 70 in the third-round last year, his playing partner was world-number-one at the time, Jason Day.
“That was just so impressive to watch,” said Australia’s Day, 29, after their round, having shot 71 to Langer’s 70. “When you consider some of the positions he is playing in from compared to where I was, it was unbelievable. If I think back to 10, I had 120 yards to the pin and he was at least 60, maybe 80 yards behind me.
“Bernhard knows his strengths and weaknesses. I could tell how gritty he is and how much of a competitor he is. He is a true professional and he really wants to compete.”
If it’s not Langer reminding the world that the over-50s can still bring serious game to the Masters, it’s usually American Fred Couples, who posted a string of five top-20 finishes in the Masters between 2010 and 2014. Aged 57 coming into the 2017 chapter at Augusta – April 6-9 – Couples was the Masters champion in 1992, and from the 2017 field, no golfer has made the cut at the Masters as many times as Couples (28 in 31 appearances) or played as many Masters rounds (118).
Other notable veterans in the 2017 Masters field include American Mark O’Meara, the champion in 1998, who will be the oldest in the field, having turned 60 in January. Scotland’s Sandy Lyle, aged 59 and the champ in 1988, leads the field in Masters appearances, with 35; while 58-year-old Larry Mize, the Augusta native who worked on Masters scoreboards as a teenager before earning his very own Green Jacket in 1987, will match Langer in making his 34th Masters appearance this year.
Lyle and O’Meara both made their Masters debuts in 1980 and no other player in the 2017 field has a Masters record reaching so far back. Langer is next in line, having become the first German to play in the Masters 35 years ago in 1982, aged 24. Couples would follow in 1983 and Mize in 1984.
“To tell you the truth the Americans still didn’t know a lot about me in 1982 and they did not know a lot about European golf altogether,” recalls Langer. “But I was used to that. I was the only German golfer on tour at the time so it was normal for me.”
In the early 1980s very few non-American golfers were invited to the Masters. The only way a European Tour golfer could be guaranteed of his first invitation was to win the European Order of Merit, which Langer achieved for the first time in 1981.
“I sure was nervous on those greens,” he adds. “It was a totally new experience. I was a fish out of water. I had never experienced greens like those at Augusta despite the fact I had been on tour for five or six years by that point, playing around the world. My eyes opened wide because I had never seen greens that undulated as much or ran so fast. The ball would just kind of take off and I had to put in a lot of time to figure out where to position my ball on those greens and how to play them.”
Unfortunately for Langer, his debut was short-lived. A string of 11 three-putts over the first two rounds saw the Masters rookie miss the cut by just a single shot, but as he drove out through the shady Magnolia Lane, Langer didn’t doubt that he would return.
“I swore that when I got back to Augusta I would put some time into figuring out those greens, so that the putting issue would not happen again.
“And there was no doubt in my mind that I would be back. I had won the money list in Europe and you don’t do that by playing rubbish. I was still getting better and I figured I was yet to arrive at my best. There were areas of my game I could improve. I knew I had the long game and I just needed to improve my putting and my short game a little to be right there with the very best.”
Langer duly returned to Augusta two years later, finishing tied-31st, before becoming his country’s first ever Major champion at the 1985 Masters. And that’s the best way to secure an annual invitation.
“Augusta is a very special place and I am still very excited to go every year,” says Langer as Masters start number 34 approaches. “I feel very much at home there, increasingly so over the years.”
Bernhard Langer is a Mercedes-Benz brand ambassador. Mercedes-Benz is a Global Sponsor of The Masters