BERNHARD LANGER stood on the 18th green, ringed by ... almost nobody. Sunday was gray and cold and blowy in north Florida, and Langer had spent the day converting a two-shot lead into an eight-shot victory. For his trouble at the Champions tour's Ginn Championship—and his rounds of 67, 66 and 71, 12 under par—Langer received a check for $375,000 and a brand-new Chrysler Town & Country, big and gaudy, in burgundy. Suddenly, the car was pulling out of its parking spot, hard by the home green, and heading up the fairway. "There goes my car," Langer said. You're tempted to use an exclamation mark, but it's Langer. He said, "Bye-bye." ¬∂ Over the years more than one car-winner has given his new ride to his caddie, but that won't be happening this time. Langer's caddie last week was his son Stefan, and "he actually has a nicer car than that one," the father said. ¬∂ Stefan is 17, with the bleached legs of a South Florida volleyball player, which he is. You know those crazy-looking high-tech, zipper-heavy getups Bernhard wears? That Dieter-hits-the-links look? The kid was wearing blue-and-white seersucker shorts, thick white belt, red golf shirt. An √ºber-American look.
Which gets right to the remarkable Langer family journey. As a teenager Langer's father, Erwin, was a German soldier during World War II. Langer, as a teenager in Germany in the early 1970s, was a struggling golf professional. His son as a teenager—well-spoken and super polite—earned himself $37,500 in a week (assuming the regular pay rate for a caddie). The father was saying on Sunday night that he didn't know if he'd write his son a check or put the money into a special college account or something. "I try not to spoil my kids, [but] it's hard to do when there's so much around them," Langer said. He and his wife, Vikki, have three children. "When I tell them the story of my youth, they can't relate to it." The story of his youth is the story of his life: Do the work.
Next week Langer will return to the place at which he made his name, Augusta National, where he won in 1985 and '93. Seeing Langer at work last week, especially in Sunday's wind, inspires a fantasy. If the putter keeps working, could Langer, at 50, contend? He tied for fourth in 2004. Why not? He's fit, he controls his iron distances well, he's mentally strong. His attitude about tournament golf is the same as Tiger's: Play to win or don't bother showing up. "If I play well, I think I might be able to contend," Langer said of Augusta. "But it's a very, very long course nowadays. I'm not short, but there are many guys out there who hit it 40 yards past me. So that's a huge disadvantage. But, hopefully, I can make some of that up by experience, by knowing the course very well and with a short game and hitting it straighter."
Lonnie Nielsen, who played with Langer on Sunday, at Hammock Beach in Palm Coast, Fla., commented on how Langer was "all business" with Stefan, and that the pair worked just as Langer does with his regular caddie. The European players on Captain Langer's winning 2004 Ryder Cup team were filled with earnest praise for him. He didn't try to be an analyst or a drinking buddy or a drill sergeant. He was Bernhard: fair, polite, respectful, hardworking. All business. It worked. It works.
After Sunday's round Langer gave a little insight into how he goes about that business. "I am not out there concentrating on just my golf for four and a half hours," he said. "I concentrate for the minute or so I am preparing and playing my shot. Then I talk to my caddie or my playing partners. Or I take in the scenery."
So there would be no wild victory celebrations for Langer and family. His drink is the shandy—beer and Sprite, in his recipe. A glass of wine now and again. But not a second. "We really don't drink alcohol," Langer says. "We're simply happy—that's all."
NEWS & NOTES
"In eight days I went from West Palm Beach to Hawaii, back to West Palm Beach, to Philadelphia, to L.A., 16-hour flight to Bangkok. Was there for five hours. Went to China, flew across China. Flew from Beijing to London. I went from London to Morocco. I went from Morocco to Casablanca. From Casablanca, I went to Germany and from Germany back to West Palm Beach. You think of where I've traveled this year, and I do it because I have the energy. And here I am playing the tour at 72. Think about it: Most people my age are dead."
—GARY PLAYER, the oldest golfer at the Ginn Championship, on his recent travel schedule
Nine Masters champs played the Ginn. Here's how they did.
1. Bernhard Langer
T6. Tom Watson
T9. Craig Stadler
11. Ben Crenshaw
22. Mark O'Meara
31. Fuzzy Zoeller
40. Sandy Lyle
50. Ian Woosnam
72. Gary Player
Right Said, Fred
Fred Couples, next year's U.S. Presidents Cup captain, showed off his meandering speaking style last week when he was asked about his unusual decision to name Champions tour player Jay Haas as an assistant instead of a PGA Tour player. Some 191 words into his answer, Couples said, "Jay Haas has a lot of respect and I've known him a long time and he's a good decision-maker and he'll be 60 percent of a captain—I'll be 40—but I'll have authority to nix some of his decisions. But that's really not an issue, I don't believe, at all."
Said Haas, "I'm just excited you answered the phone when I called."
Follow this week's Cap Cana at GOLF.com
Photograph by David Walberg
OCEAN DRIVE Langer, who often takes time to enjoy the scenery during a round, teed off in the general direction of his homeland on the 185-yard 8th hole.
Photograph by David Walberg
SERIOUS SENIOR A two-time winner, Langer believes he can contend at the Masters.
LUIS M. ALVAREZ/AP (PLAYER)
HANS DERYK/REUTERS (COUPLES)