Alone Among Europes Finest Langer Just Keeps Rolling On


He is nothing if not a survivor. Bernhard Langer keeps chugging along, and you wonder if it will ever end. Come age, come injury, come putting styles, Langer will be winning golf tournaments until they cart him off the course in a wheelchair.
He won the Linde German Masters last week, his second title on the European Tour in a season which he spent much of the time playing golf in America. Langer now is No. 3 in earnings in Europe and 21st in the U.S. He has won nearly $1.6 million here, $1,375,000 in Europe (approximately $350,000 counts on both tours), and now has risen again to No. 11 in the World Rankings.
Langer was No. 1 when the first rankings came out way back during in April of 1986. He quickly dropped to No. 2 when Seve Ballesteros leaped into the top spot. It looked like Ballesteros would be there long after Langer was peering at scrapbooks and old trophies for his inspiration.
Look again, folks.
Langer is 44 years old. Europes finest were born in a 14-month period between 1957 and 1958 ' Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, Sandy Lyle and Langer. Nick Price was born in this timespan, as well as Mark OMeara. All have won in multiples, been major champions, and aged gracefully in the limelight of hugely successful careers. But alone amongst the rest, Langer is still doing it, still winning tourney after tourney.
Why? It cant be good health ' Langer has a back that never gives warning when it will freeze up, and it has frozen up numerous times during his career. It cant solely be dedication ' Faldo was every bit as dedicated. It cant solely be athletic talent ' Ballesteros was much more coordinated. It cant be early ability ' this son of a humble bricklayer was born in Germany, a country which had only one public golf course when Langer began playing.
What is it? Who knows? But Langer has not just stuck it out, he is still playing exceptionally well while the others are just hanging on.
I cant help thinking about his past. He lived an extremely harsh childhood. His father was a war prisoner who leaped out of a moving train in Czechoslavakia, making it to freedom in what was then West Germany. Bernhard grew up 30 miles from Munich in the little town of Anhausen, the youngest of three children. Yes, they were poor. Very poor.
He went to school in a building where grades 1-4 were in one room. He failed English and mathematics in the fifth grade and that was virtually the end of his formal education, though he still went to school from time to time. By now, though, he was a caddy, earning the equivalent of $3 a round. And he began to play a little, using four hickory-shafted clubs.
By the time Bernhard was 11, he had saved enough money from $3-rounds to buy a full set of clubs. He was 15 when he went to a job counselor and was told by the stern interviewer that there was no such thing as a golf professional. Langer knew better, and he quit school altogether to become one.
He had planned to be a teaching pro, but by age 17, he was too successful in professional tournaments to stay in a clubhouse selling golf gloves. So he took a deep breath and brought a little Ford, driving 2,000 miles to Spain and Portugal to make a go of the life of a touring pro.
What happened since then is just unheard-of. Faldo, Woosnam and Lyle all grew up in golfing hotbeds with the very best instruction and the latest in equipment. Langer grew up with only a curious mind and determination. That would be plenty enough, as it turns out.
Langer lives in South Florida now with his American wife and four children. He speaks perfect English, though there is a bit of sing-song lilt that denotes a German speaking. But one thing never changes ' he keeps winning. And winning.
He has had the same caddy, Peter Coleman, for 20 years now. He has gone from a power player to a fairly short, accurate hitter; changed putting styles too many times to remember; won in Europe and won in America, including two Masters titles. And there he is, an ever-present success story while those born about the same time as him have flared and flamed out.
When is it going to end? Langer doesnt really know. How do you say never in German?