Nick Price exhaled a drawn-out whistle of amazement at the mere mention of his World Golf Hall of Fame companion.
At 56, Bernhard Langer comes to this weekend’s 3M Championship as competitive as he was when he won the 1979 world under-25 championship in France by 17 shots. He hits the ball as well as he did in winning his first professional tournament a year later by five shots. And his putting is as spot-on as it was when he won green jackets at the Masters in 1985 and 1993.
“It’s just that doggedness,” Price said. “He gets his nose down, boy, and just keeps going.”
More than three decades after his first dominant performance, not much has changed for the slender, smooth- swinging German.
Langer blitzed the field at Royal Porthcawl in Wales last week, winning the Senior British Open by a Champions Tour-record 13 strokes at 18 under par.
It’s a scene Price and the other 79 competitors in the 3M field this week have watched time and again.
”Just beautiful golf,” Price said. “The man is still driven.”
Just ask him.
“I’m just trying to have fun playing the game,” Langer said Thursday at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine. “I still believe I can get better.”
Better than a commanding lead in the season-long Charles Schwab Cup points standings? Better than leading the 50-and-over tour in nearly every scoring category? Better than a head-spinning performance in a major six time zones away?
Sure. This is Bernhard Langer we’re talking about. A guy who endured a 20-hour travel day Monday to get to Minnesota, then hit the driving range and played a practice round with his kids on Tuesday.
“The effort and the commitment that’s put into what he’s doing right now is quite phenomenal,” said Colin Montgomerie, in a distant second place last week and Langer’s only true threat for end-of-the-year awards. “In any other year I’d be at the top of most charts. Unfortunately you come up against someone who’s that little bit better. And last week he was a lot better.”
Langer’s dominance on the Champions Tour is hardly a surprise. He’s finished as the Tour’s leading money winner five of the past six seasons and is one of just 10 players to win 20 or more times since joining the tour.
Langer also returned to Augusta this spring and finished tied for eighth at the Masters. That put him back on golf’s worldwide radar, and last week’s performance inched him closer to the center.
This is a Ryder Cup year, and European captain Paul McGinley has three picks to round out the 12-member team.
Langer played on 10 Ryder Cup teams and captained Team Europe to a blowout victory in 2004 at Oakland Hills in Michigan.
Ask around TPC Twin Cities this week and there’s plenty of support for Langer to return a decade after his last Ryder Cup experience, even if no one will say so directly.
“I’ve often said he’s the best partner I’ve ever had in the Ryder Cup and I stand by that,” Montgomerie said. “Thank God I’m not the captain.”
Said Hal Sutton, the losing Team USA captain in 2004: “I don’t think Bernhard could hurt the team, let me put it that way. And certainly he’s got more experience than almost anybody they could pick.”
Langer’s career Ryder Cup record is an impressive 21-15-6, and his 24 points for Europe are second by only one to Nick Faldo.
Rory McIlroy this week dismissed the idea of Langer joining Team Europe in September at Gleneagles in Scotland as a player, but warmed to maybe a role as a vice captain.
Not playing against the world’s best every week, McIlroy said, puts Langer at a disadvantage even if his recent play is something of a marvel.
Montgomerie threw water on that premise, reiterating Thursday remarks he recently told SkySports in Europe.
“As I’ve said, Rory McIlroy and his friends can bring it on because 18 under [at the Senior British Open], that would have won an Open Championship, never mind a Senior Open,” Montgomerie said.
Content either way
Langer said he hasn’t spoken with McGinley in two years and doesn’t plan to stare at his cellphone Sept. 2 when the European picks are announced.
“Of course I’d take any call — certainly that call,” Langer said. “It would be awesome. Very unique. Something I would definitely look forward to. I’ve always loved team golf and the Ryder Cup is the pinnacle of team golf, representing your tour and your country.”
Langer’s age puts him at a disadvantage, and he’s never turned in a round at Gleneagles.
But with his competitiveness and drive is there any doubt he’d be the first to show up for practice if he’s selected?
“It’s always difficult to play the Ryder Cup against someone that has to be beaten,” Montgomerie said. “And Bernhard Langer will not beat himself.”