Bernhard Langer has been a Ryder Cup captain; he’s been in Paul McGinley’s shoes.
Langer knows his odds aren’t great, to say the least, to make this year’s team. McGinley will make his three captain’s picks next Tuesday, and among those who will almost certainly need a pick are Ryder stalwarts Ian Poulter, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. Graeme McDowell might need one. What’s more, McGinley has said he has no way of accurately measuring Langer’s epic season on the Champions Tour—five wins, two of them majors, among his 15 top-10 finishes in 17 starts. How good was the competition? How many wins would Donald or Westwood have had out there? There’s no telling. With no World Ranking points on offer, Champions Tour pros are notoriously hard to evaluate. They also have no way of making a Ryder Cup team without a pick.
Langer, who turned 57 on Wednesday, understands all that. And yet on another level he knows that there’s no reason a player his age shouldn’t be allowed to shine on one of the game’s biggest stages. “I don't see a reason why not, as there's certainly a number of great players out here that could be chosen,” Langer said from the Shaw Charity Classic at Canyon Meadows G&CC in Calgary, Alberta, on Thursday.
He’s being modest. There may be many great players; there’s only one Langer, and since his T8 at the Masters in April he has made a very strong case for himself to become the oldest Ryder Cup player ever. (Ray Floyd was 51 when he played for the U.S. side in 1993.) In fact, if Langer can’t get on this European team, you wonder if anyone playing fulltime on the Champions Tour will ever tee it for God and country.
“He’s a workaholic,” Rocco Mediate said earlier this week. “He never stops. If I was Paul McGinley he’d be my first pick and I’d throw Monty [Colin Montgomerie] in there, too. It’s fun to have [Langer] on our tour because he makes you work harder.”
Here’s how Woody Austin put it after Langer won the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open a few weeks ago: “He's having one of those Cinderella awesome years.”
Well, sure. They would say that, right? But Langer’s fellow oldies aren’t the only ones who think he’d help Europe’s cause at Gleneagles, Scotland, Sept. 26-28.
“I would love to see Bernhard on the team because I think he’s playing better than ever,” Martin Kaymer tells golf.com. “I hope Paul McGinley takes a few minutes and meets him and asks him if he feels he’s up to the challenge, because I feel Bernhard would be very honest and if he didn’t feel up to it, he would say so. He is playing so well, and it would be great for Germany—a great ending to a great summer for Germany.”
Two-time Masters champion Langer won the Senior British Open by 13 strokes earlier this summer, after Kaymer had won the U.S. Open by eight. Kaymer—still aglow after his win at Pinehurst, followed shortly by the German national soccer team’s World Cup victory in Brazil—texted his mentor: “Eight shots is good, but 13 is a little better.”
Langer has always been a terror on the Champions Tour—he’s won 23 times on the 50-and-over circuit. But he credits improved putting for his torrid run this year. His scoring average is 67.98. And yet he’s probably going to have to do something really crazy at Canyon Meadows this week to get noticed. “I want to see guys bursting over the line this week,” McGinley said. What if Langer wins by 13 again? Would that do it?
“Just because we are 51 or 52 or whatever age we might be, why does that make us worse than what we were at 44 or 42? It makes no sense,” said Langer, who has played in 10 Ryder Cups, the first in 1981. “The golf ball doesn't know how old we are. We have more experience, we have a better understanding of what we can do and how the game works and why certain things are happening, because I've had more time grooving my swing and practicing certain things and picking other people's brains, whether it's coaches, mental coaches or whatever it might be. So I can see that happen in the future, that there's the odd over-50-year old guy going to be in some of the biggest competitions. I keep saying that sooner or later it's going to be an over-50-year old winning a major.”
Langer’s most recent victory, at the Dick’s Sporting Goods in Endicott, N.Y., came despite starting the final round four shots behind. He also has been playing with a minor back injury he incurred while playing soccer with one of his kids. He missed a few workouts, he says, but is healing fast and is otherwise in fine health.
“It's very hard for me to evaluate Bernhard because he's not playing in World Ranking points,” McGinley said recently. As captain, he added, he makes up his team based on World Ranking points and European Order of Merit points. “Now, Bernhard doesn't count in either of those,” McGinley said. “The only event he's played in that has World Ranking points or European Order of Merit points is the Masters.” (Langer tied for eighth place with, among others, Rory McIlroy.) “So it's very hard for me to evaluate Bernhard where he is vis-a-vis the rest of the players. As a result, I'll almost certainly—I'll never say never, but it's 99.9 percent sure that my picks will come from the guys who are on the periphery of the team [on points] and chasing at the moment.”
In other words, ageism lives—even in golf—and Langer isn’t holding his breath for a pick. “I love playing on the Champions Tour,” he said, “and I'm not going to start playing the European Tour now or the U.S. tour all of a sudden, five or six tournaments, just to prove a point. If this doesn't prove a point, then nothing's going to prove a point.”