Bernhard Langer completes wire-to-wire victory at Belmont CC
BELMONT — When you’ve won as many professional golf tournaments as Bernhard Langer — his 81st individual victory in a 43-year career came Sunday at the Constellation Senior Players Championship — the sheer volume plus the passage of time can blur details and clutter the memory.
Some wins stand out, though. The Masters titles Langer won in 1985 and 1993, obviously. His first win as a pro in 1974, no doubt.
For a variety of reasons, Langer can add the trophy he earned at Belmont Country Club in dominant, record-setting fashion. With a 3-under-par 68, Langer went wire-to-wire, finishing 19 under par and winning the Senior Players Championship by six shots over Kirk Triplett.
In the process, he became the second player in tournament history to successfully defend. Arnold Palmer (1984-85) is the only other to win this event in back-to-back years.
“Well, it was a magical week. To do something that Arnie did is amazing,” Langer said. “[I] found my game, was pretty much in the lead from Day 1, and played some really good golf from the get-go.”
The victory extended Langer’s streak of winning at least one Champions Tour event every year he’s been a member, starting in 2007, the year he turned 50. Most years, Langer didn’t wait long for his first victory of the season. He won twice in his first start, three times in his third, twice in his fourth.
This year had been different. Over his first nine starts, Langer had his share of solid finishes (five top-10s), but no victories. Only in 2012, when Langer didn’t win until his 14th Champions Tour start, did he go this long into a season before winning. And coming off one of his worst finishes in a Champions Tour event — he tied for 48th last week — someone known for his calm demeanor and methodical approach was growing impatient.
Winning is great, but winning in front of friends and family makes it even better. Two of Langer’s four children were at the tournament, including oldest son Stefan, who works in New York, far away from the Langers’ home in Boca Raton, Fla. Also in attendance was son Jason, a 15-year-old who suffered a broken pelvis earlier this year that had him in a wheelchair for four weeks, then on crutches for four more. It happened around the time that Langer’s daughter, Christina, was undergoing back surgery.
Perhaps Langer’s slow start to the season can be explained away, then. In front of Stefan, Jason, and his wife, Vikki, he led from start to finish at Belmont, winning on the Champions Tour for the 24th time.
“This game is so amazing. It’s brutally tough when things go wrong and bad, and enthralling and thrilling when things go right,” Langer said. “I enjoy playing with a big lead, [but] you know, you’ve still got to pay attention. It’s not like it’s over.”
For a few early minutes the lead was six, after Langer’s first bogey since No. 8 on Thursday, a span of 48 holes, and a birdie by Colin Montgomerie at the par-5 fourth. But Langer responded to the rare dropped shot by ripping a hybrid to 6 feet and making eagle at No. 4, and when he added a birdie at the sixth, his eight-stroke lead had been restored. It never got below five, and that took Triplett making four birdies in a five-hole stretch, on his way to shooting a 64.
Langer had an ace in the hole. Playing, like almost everyone else in the 81-player field, for the first time at Belmont, Langer turned to a trusted friend to help guide him around a hilly, tricky layout designed by Donald Ross. The head professional at Hopkinton Country Club, Dave Lane, has been good friends with Langer for 25 years, and has played Belmont some 50 times.
Lane visited Belmont three weeks ago and spent 30 minutes putting on each green, then made a special yardage book for Langer and caddie Terry Holt, describing drive lines, elevation impact, and most importantly, how and where these putting surfaces break. The three walked the course together before the tournament — front nine Monday, back nine Tuesday — studied the book, and Holt called Lane every morning to go over the hole locations.
While everyone else was struggling to figure out Belmont’s greens, Langer was ahead of the learning curve.
“I told Terry that if he can get it going pretty good, he’s going to have a big advantage. These guys are going to be scratching their heads out there, because the greens are so difficult and no one’s played here,’’ Lane said. “I thought with that information, he could get a bit of a running start.
“It’d be like helping out any friend, he just executes better than most of my friends.”
Credit Lane with the assist. Langer, who opened 65-65, three-putted just twice during the week, and averaged 30 putts per round. With nobody hitting more greens in regulation than Langer’s 64-for-72 (that’s an impressive 89 percent), his comfort on the greens made for a fairly worry-free weekend.
Prior to the tournament, when Langer met with the press and was asked if he’d been to the Boston area before, he said yes, one time. But Langer couldn’t remember when. The answer, it turns out, was 1988, when he missed the cut by one shot at the US Open, held at The Country Club.
He couldn’t recall that week. He won’t forget this one.