When I think of Bernhard Langer, the first word that comes to mind is machine. He never made a mistake, but it wasn’t anything I didn’t expect going into Sunday’s final round of the US Senior Open. Perhaps it wasn’t the outcome 99.9% of the 31,444 fans in attendance at Sahalee were hoping for, but it was incredibly impressive to watch.
Few players wouldn’t have held up mentally or physically in the Ryder Cup-like atmosphere. Coming off last week’s major victory at the Senior British–with a flight across the continental United States and the Atlantic and eight timezones, Langer shot a brilliant bogey-free three-under 67.
After watching him play and listening to him speak all week, I knew there was no way he was going to falter. He was doing everything too well, and more important, he’s one tough guy. If there were someone I had to count on to come through under difficult, grueling conditions — including the regular PGA Tour players — he’s at the top of the list.
“He was up first all day,” Couples said of Langer. “He hit it down the middle of every fairway. As I told him, he played eight great rounds — to play the British Seniors and this without really a poor round of golf, which is tough to do.”
Usually there’s one player that the gallery is pulling for more than the other, but it’s never quite so vocal and overwhelming. People were respectful for the most part and politely clapped when he hit a good shot, but there were natural negative or non-reactions, too.
“It’s never much fun, but I’ve had it before,” Langer said when asked his feelings on being the villain. “When you play in the same group with Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer or any of the big names in America, when you play in America, certainly the Ryder Cups, I’ve played ten Ryder Cups, five on American soil, you get a lot more of this, you know. So I knew what was coming, which doesn’t make it any easier.”
On the 14th Freddie hit a huge drive down the middle and the crowd roared. Near the crosswalk where I was standing, a fan mused, “Man, Langer’s shot was just as good. What’s a guy gotta do for some love around here?” He was half-joking, but until then, I wasn’t aware Langer had teed off because, well, it was hard to see and people were shuffling to get in position to watch Fred.
I hitched a ride with someone in the three-cart caravan to bring Langer to the media room (where he would have the opportunity to repeat himself for the fourth time!). He held the Ouimet Trophy in his lap.
I shook my head in awe. How is this guy still standing? That’s just impressive. Never a single complaint and very polite.
“It’s hard to believe I won two back‑to‑back Majors with an eight‑hour time change in between and two very challenging golf courses,” Langer said. “I’m very pleased. Probably played some of my best golf these last two weeks from tee‑to‑green. This week I really putted well, all week long. I just had good touch, even when I had downhill putts; I didn’t leave them ten feet short or ripped them ten feet by, and that’s the key out here.”
He didn’t three-putt once in 72 holes — that might be the most impressive stat I’ve heard in a while. You’d have to play Sahalee to understand that is a remarkable feat. I had at least four or five last time I played. And tomorrow, when I get to play in the outing, I’m sure I’ll have at least that many. (Yeah, I know, with that attitude I will!)
But Langer’s feats really shouldn’t be surprising. (He’s a legend!) On Saturday night when I heard him spout off the times he’d won back-to-back tournaments like it was no big deal, I pretty much expected him to do what he did. There was no way he was going to post a number higher than 71. Fatigue? Jetlag? Pressure? No problem!
“It does take a lot out of you when you’re in the lead…It’s very draining and you live on adrenaline pretty much,” Langer said. “Some things that most players can’t do, they lose focus, they’re tired, or whatever it is, I don’t know what it is, but it’s difficult to win back‑to‑back big tournaments and I’ve been blessed enough to do it on several occasions.”
He could make it three-in-a-row. Huh? Oh, Langer’s not getting a break. He smiled wearily and said, “I won the 3M Championship last year, so I’m off to Minneapolis tomorrow.”
Machine, I tell you!
[Photo by Steve Gibbons/USGA]