U.S. SENIOR OPEN
Langer Even Surprises Himself Occasionally August 10, 2016 | Columbus, Ohio By Dave Shedloski

Langer has won seven senior majors, and an eighth victory this week would tie him with Jack Nicklaus for the most by a single player. (USGA/Fred Vuich)

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Bernhard Langer recently won his 101st professional tournament, a milestone that only comes to players who remain competitive well past the expiration date for most other golfers. That’s 101 by his count. Which is likely accurate. But it must just seem higher to his opponents.

“Bernhard is 58, and he’s won 3,000 tournaments, and he keeps winning every year,” said Rocco Mediate. “He’s awesome.”

Yes, Langer is 58 – and he’ll turn 59 later this month. But it would surprise no one if he won his 3,001st … er, his 102nd event this week, the 37th U.S. Senior Open Championship at Scioto Country Club. He might hail from Germany, but the man runs like a Swiss Energizer Bunny, or some such thing.

In 13 PGA Tour Champions starts this year, Langer has three wins and has finished no worse than a tie for 13th. Two of his victories came in senior majors: the Regions Tradition and the Constellation Senior Players. And his record in this championship includes a victory in 2010 at Sahalee and nothing worse than 22nd in eight starts.

“You think about how good he's played throughout his career, why wouldn't he continue to do that unless he doesn't want to play anymore?” said Mediate, who kept Langer from a third major win this year by taking the Senior PGA Championship. “He’s always been an amazing player.”

To Langer, his exploits don’t seem all that amazing. He keeps himself in relatively good shape. He loves the game. He loves to compete. And the 6 inches between his ears remains perhaps his greatest asset, something that Tom Watson, another age-defying icon, has noted. “That’s where Langer is so tough. He’s not going to make those mental mistakes.”

Langer isn’t the first to bust through the mythical age 55 barrier, and he won’t be the last. But Langer seems to be surging as he approaches his 60th birthday, and that is simply not normal. Except to him.

“I'm a strong believer that, even with age, you can improve your technique because the technique has nothing to do with age, really,” he explained. “It's just the technical aspect of you swinging the club. … I'm not as strong and I'm not as flexible. I can't do the things I did 20 years ago, but I can still improve my technique. And if I do that, with my physical abilities, I can still hit more fairways, hit more greens, learn more about myself and the game of golf and what I can't do, what I shouldn't do, and I think I've achieved some of that. I think my technique has gotten a little bit better, trying to not have a weakness in my game.”

He’s doing an awfully good job. When you finish inside the top 10 in 15 straight majors, you probably don’t have a weakness. In fact, the last time he was worse than 10th was the 2013 U.S. Senior Open.

Frankly, even he is a bit surprised by the 28 senior titles he has amassed after winning 42 times on the European Tour, plus his two Masters Tournament victories.

“When I first turned 50, I didn't know what to expect on the Champions Tour. I thought it could be sweet, sour, whatever,” he said. “I might miss the regular tour, but I really didn't. I played two or three tournaments out here, and I immediately felt like this is where I want to play the rest of my life. I've done the other thing. I've been there, done that, and it's fine, but it's for young men.

“I was hoping to be one of the top five or 10 players on this Tour. So far, so good.”

So good, in fact, that he leads the 2016 Charles Schwab Cup money list after winning the season title the previous two years.

While he trails Hale Irwin in total PGA Tour Champions victories – Irwin has 45, including his last at age 61 – Langer with a win this week can tie Jack Nicklaus for most senior majors with eight. Given that Scioto Country Club is Nicklaus’ boyhood golf home, the timing would be rather providential.

“It would be an amazing achievement and honor to do it right here where he started his career,” Langer said with a grin. “But Jack is in a different class altogether. Nobody might ever achieve what he's done. We're just trying to get a small part of his footsteps and try and follow along.”

Langer isn’t a follower. He’s spent too much of his golf career in the lead.

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently writes for USGA websites.

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