Two-time Masters Champion Bernhard Langer is one of the most dominant players in professional golf today. After more than 30 years on the PGA and European Tours, Langer embarked on a second career on the PGA Tour Champions where he has racked up 32 wins and seven senior majors championships, with no sign of slowing. Of the 199 Champions events he has entered, he’s made the cut in every single one. He nearly won last week’s Constellation Senior Players Championship and will make his next start at the Senior Open. We caught up with Langer ahead of this week’s Open at Royal Birkdale, where he got his first taste of major championship competition in 1976, to reflect on his 40-year career and the anchors of his rock-solid game.
How did you come to the game of golf?
I started as a caddy when I was 9 years old, and my older brother took me to a local golf course here. So we rode our bikes there and back just to earn some pocket money. I was pulling and pushing trolleys because as a 9-year-old, I couldn’t carry a bag. All the members had trolleys anyways. And that’s how I got introduced to the game of golf — to earn some money as a caddy.
Royal Birkdale in 1976 was your first Open, what was that experienece like for you as a player.
This was, you know, 40 years ago. So I remember playing practice rounds with Gary Player. I believe that was the first time I ever met him in person. And he was trying all sorts of swing and shots and different ideas and he just really impressed me. As a person I knew he was a really great golfer and I had a great time just playing 18 holes with Gary Player during practice rounds at the British Open. Then my own British Open didn’t go so well. I believe that was because it was all a learning process for me. I wasn’t used to playing links courses and in strong winds and puck bunkers was fairly new to me. So I just put it down as a learning process.
I was thrilled as a young man to make it through (the qualifying process) and get into one of the largest, biggest, best known tournaments in the world. As a European, it’s certainly the biggest tournament on the European continent. So that was very exciting! And then to rub shoulders with some of the greatest players that ever played the game — it was all a new experience for me.
What has been your most important professional moment up to this point?
Well I would have to say it’s the US Master’s wins. But there’s been lots of special moments for me, personally; winning my first German Open, my first German Masters, my first tournament as a pro, Lots of other smaller steps to get to the highest stage of winning Majors. And then the last 10 years on the PGA champions have been pretty special. Winning there, 30, I think it’s been 32 10’s now and 7 majors. overall it’s been an amazing career.
You’ve become quite a force on the PGA Champions Tour. Can you tell what’s clicking for you?
Well I think it’s a lot of things. First of all you’ve got to be reasonably healthy and reasonably fit to be doing this. Otherwise, it’s hard to play well. But then you need a good coach, you need a good caddy, you’ve got to have good people around you. Family life, my faith has played a good role in my success. I think and just my outlook on life. Learning more and more about yourself, just what works for you. But also, I feel I don’t have to tinker with my golf swing as much as I used to. I used to continuously make changes to get better. I think I arrived at a point, a few years ago, where I was striving to be here and I got there more or less. Now it’s a matter of fine tuning and maintaining the technique to play golf at the very top level but, as you know, golf is very complicated. You’ve got to have the long game, the short game, pitching, bunker shots and chipping and then putting, which is about a third and half of the game anyway. So that’s what makes it so difficult and you have the mental side as well.
You you had a rough end to your tournament on Sunday at the Senior Players Championship. How do you deal with a set-back like that?
Well you look at what happened, what went down and which parts didn’t work or broke down or why certain things happened and you analyze it and try and learn from it. I played actually pretty well the first 9, or the first 11 holes and then it was just a few errors. A bad tee shot , then a 3 putt and then a bad chip and then a bad shot in the water. There were a bunch of good shots in between all those, actually perfect shots too. But those were the ones that ultimately led to being one shot behind the winner and not one shot in front of the winner. I try and learn from the experience, figure out why did I hit it in the water or why did I three putt and try and eliminate those things. You can never totally eliminate it but you can try and get better so I process all of that, look at it and work on my technique or on my thinking. Hopefully I learn from it so when I get into a similar situation next time, I won’t make the same mistake.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Probably in terms of golf, to focus on the fundamentals. Not get lost in the many small areas of the golf swing. Stick with the fundamentals, if those are right then you have a good chance to make a good move at it.
If you could only play one round of golf, where would you play and with whom?
I would probably go to Augusta. I get asked this quite a bit so there’s really two answers. I would love to play the most with my kids. I have four kids, I would love to play with them. If it had to be somebody else, I would love to play a round of golf with Ben Hogan, who I’ve never seen play and it’s not going to happen. Byron Nelson would be another one because I just never had the opportunity. And Bob Hope because he was always a lot of fun to be with.