BOCA RATON, Fla. – When asked the secret to his long success, Bernhard Langer surprises you with his answer.
Yes, he lists reasons you would suspect – good health, hard work and loving support – but he turns hard in a direction you didn’t see coming.
Langer, 53, tells you the lack of major emotional upheaval in his life, the lack of any enduring personal strife, helped keep his path clear to the 83 professional titles and trophies he’s won over 30-plus years.
Langer is evidence that stability in one’s personal life can be as helpful to a golf swing as proper alignment and a sound swing plane.
“I like harmony in my life,” says Langer, the two-time Masters champ seeking to win the Champions Tour’s Jack Nicklaus Player of the Year Award for a fourth consecutive season. “I don’t like strife or conflict.”
When Mark Calcavecchia sees Langer, he sees an advantage every player craves.
“Bernhard shows up every single day with such a clear mind,” Calcavecchia says.
Rebellious teenagers at home.
Those are the unseen hazards that can rob shots and titles from the toughest pros.
In a sport where the mind wanders on long walks between shots, the most skilled eye can’t always see why shots sail off course.
While tour pros will tell you they can’t relate to the monumental tumult Tiger Woods has battled in a bid to find his winning form, they understand how turmoil challenges performance. Nobody’s focus is immune from that.
“We’ve all seen it in the last 15 months, how when there’s drama outside, it’s difficult, very difficult,” said John Cook, an 11-time PGA Tour winner and friend of Woods. “Golf is so mental, at the professional level, where if you don’t have that peace, it’s tough.”
Larry Nelson, a three-time major champion, says tour pros are remarkably skilled at blocking out problems in their lives when they step inside the ropes. But he says it’s prolonged emotional upheaval that erodes defenses and makes the game harder.
“You can be mentally tough golf wise,” Nelson said. “But if you’re mentally exhausted, it’s hard. I think that does play a big role in how a guy’s career goes. If you have a lot of emotional stuff over a long time, it wears you out.”
At the U.S. Senior Open at Inverness in 2003, Nelson arrived after burying his father. He spent 21 days at his father’s side before the death.
“I was fine going to play, I was excited about getting to play, I was ready to play, but I was just mentally exhausted,” Nelson said. “When you’re worrying about something for three or four months, you don’t have the mentally energy you need.”
Cook married his high-school sweetheart, Jan. They’ve been married 31 years and have raised three children. He says he understands exactly what Langer’s saying about how important stability’s been to a good golf game.
“Home’s always my comfort zone,” Cook said. “Whenever things have gone bad out here, I go home knowing I can re-group, that there’s peace at home.”
While Cook says he’s enjoyed a strong family life, he says the drama that came with raising teenagers tested his focus from time to time over the years.
“There have been issues, kids growing up, that throw you off,” Cook said.
Cook said even ordinary family drama can “zap confidence” when you’re away from loved ones.
So next time you see a tour pro hitting it sideways, be careful what you assume. Sometimes, it’s the heart that’s temporarily misaligned, not the feet.
Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell