German golfer Bernhard Langer didn't win the U.S. Senior Open earlier this month, which means he'll have to start a new string of senior major victories when he competes in the Constellation Senior Players Championship at Caves Valley Golf Club this week.
Langer will certainly be the favorite to win for the third time in four majors because the two-time Masters champion continues to dominate senior golf and has shown no signs of slowing down, even if he proved the last time out that you really can't win them all.
He's been so dominant, in fact, that he came under attack during the Senior Open for the way he uses his long putter, which critics insist comes too close to the "anchor" stroke that now is prohibited by the USGA. Some even went so far as to question Langer's integrity for continuing to putt in that manner, even though he met with USGA officials and was told his stroke is legal under the new rules.
The gentlemanly Langer bristled at the ethical questions at the Senior Open and released a statement on Friday in advance of the Players Championship.
"During my 45-year career as a professional golfer, I have called penalties on myself. I believe in honesty and integrity, and I could not live with myself if I broke a rule and did not incur the penalty," he stated. "I'm certain that I am not anchoring the putter and that my putting stroke is not violating the Rules of Golf.
"On several occasions, I have been in contact with the USGA and rules officials on the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions, and each time I have been assured that my putting stroke is within the rules of golf. I will remain open and honest with rules officials and the governing bodies, and I will continue to play with the same integrity that I've displayed throughout my career."
No doubt, the subject will come up again this week while Langer attempts to win the Senior Players Championship for the fourth time in a row. To put that in perspective, no other senior golfer has won this event more than twice, and the only other golfer to win it twice in a row was Arnold Palmer in 1984 and '85.
Langer's career achievements are beyond reproach. He has 106 career victories and ranks second all-time in wins on both the European Tour (42) and the PGA Tour Champions (32). He talked about his career and looked ahead to the Players Championship in an interview last month.
You're not a total stranger to Caves Valley Golf Club. You've played here a few times before. What do you think of the course?
I have played the course a few times before, but then they renovated, redid it about two years ago, so it's a little bit different now. I've had the pleasure of playing there three times now. I think it's one of the best courses we have in the area if not in the country. The people are very excited there — all the members — to have a championship back at Caves Valley. There's a lot of buzz going around the golf course and the whole area. Certainly, the PGA tour champions are very excited to come back and play this championship golf course.
You'll be attempting to win your fourth straight Senior Players Championship. That's almost unbelievable, considering that no one else has won this event more than twice in its 35-year history. How is that possible?
It's very unusual and unique to win any tournament three times in a row but to win it at three different venues is exceptional. I was fortunate and blessed to come to the top of my form and play very well on those particular weeks to be a three-time defending Constellation Senior Players champion.
If this were a team sport, we'd call you the ultimate "big game" player. Do you really take your game to another level in the majors?
I think there is [another gear]. There are thousands of great golfers on any tour, and it's great to win on any tour, but what do the very best have different from the very good? It must be the capability to focus better and to actually perform even better when the heat is on, when the pressure is on. When some people falter, the great champions are able to play to an even better level than normal. That doesn't happen every week, but it has happened several times. Some players are a little bit better than others. We saw it with Tiger [Woods] for several years. When he was in the hunt, he just was able to focus even better and pull off a lot of victories where other guys would just fade away. And some of that is a learning proposition and some have that natural ability, whatever that might be, but that's what separates us.
You're going to be 60 next month and you've been playing golf professionally since you were a teenager. What is it about this game that keeps it fresh and exciting for you after all these years?
Well, it's just a lot of fun. I love to compete. It's part of my makeup, I suppose, and just being able to do it all over the world for over 40 years now, it's a thrill. I've learned to pace myself. I don't play every week. I take some time off. I have other interests. I have family. I have kids and do other things. When I do come back out I'm still eager to play and compete. I love the adrenaline going through my body and seeing my name on the leaderboard and hopefully end up on the very top of it.
You have played all over the world over the course of your career, which has to be challenging for someone who takes his role as a family man so seriously.
It's very difficult because you have certain priorities. You feel like you need to play a certain number of tournaments, but you also want to be around your wife and your kids, and [it] just comes down to what are you priorities and it comes down to balance. You have to find the right balance for your wife and your kids, and still have time to perform at the highest level. That was always one of my priorities every year. I sit down and make my schedule and make sure I have enough time with my family, my kids so they still know their dad and I'm involved in their lives and they don't call me stranger and they don't know me. In business, it's probably the same. A lot of people have to travel a great deal. In my case, it was even a little harder because I was all over the world and competing — not just in America and Europe. I was everywhere. Sometimes, it's hard to say no to some wonderful tournaments, but you've got to make sure you spend enough time at home.
You also are known for your charitable work, which also knows no international borders.
Yeah, I'm very involved with a number of charities mostly dealing with kids and orphans and widows. It's usually in the area where I live in South Florida, but I also have a foundation in Germany that gives money away to needy families and especially children. I also believe in Jesus Christ. I'm a Christian, so we're involved in that area as well, trying to spread the gospel. There's so much need all over the place, and that's one of the wonderful things about the PGA Tour, how generous they are and how much money goes to all these major cities wherever we go and play. Every tournament raises hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars for local charities, and that's a wonderful thing to give back and to help.
Was there something from your past or childhood that pointed you toward charities that help children and families?
Well, it's not so much in my personal life. I grew up in a wonderful family and was very blessed with my whole upbringing. But my wife comes from that background. She lost her parents at age 4 and had a very difficult time in the years to come, to come up and grow up. That's where that came from … a bit part, and just meeting these kids and seeing what they have to go through and realizing how blessed I was to have two parents and a lot of love and a brother and sister living in one home. Not being tossed back and forth and not being loved by anybody made me realize how good I had it and how blessed I was and I wanted to give back.
When you're at the top of your game at 59 years old with no end in sight, you've got to have some secrets to good health and longevity. Is there a fitness book in your future?
I've written a few books, but not about fitness. I guess most of it is genes and then otherwise I enjoy working out. I feel better. I have more energy. I feel healthier. You try to watch what you eat to some extent, all in moderation. I've had a few injuries in my life, but nothing that has kept me away from the game for very long. So, I've been very fortunate to be competing from 18 to 59. That's a long time.