Golf legend Langer reveals what drives him on towards Irwin record

‘I have to be healthy, it’s got to be fun and I need to have success!’: Golf legend Bernhard Langer reveals what drives him on as the 65-year-old chases Hale Irwin’s remarkable record of 45 senior tiles

  • Langer continues to tick off the records on the over-50s PGA Champions Tour
  • The German has won 44 titles, including 11 senior majors – one less than Irwin
  • He missed a putt against Irwin that would have retained the Ryder Cup in 1991

Bernhard Langer has less cause than most to bemoan the constrictions of age, but every so often he feels a snag.

In the past year, as he ticked his way to 65, that has meant a slightly dwindling number on a spreadsheet. ‘They keep averages of pretty much everything these days,’ he tells Sportsmail.

‘I saw it with my driving distances. I was at 280 yards for about the first 10 years on the seniors circuit, so from 50 through 60, but I’m at 275 this year. Age, it gets you.’

Bernhard Langer continues to tick off the records on the over-50s PGA Champions Tour

He can laugh about it and for good reason. Few in sport can draw out an Indian summer quite like a golfer and no golfer has made so much hay as Langer.

It would seem that while his wider profession is changing by the day, burning under the hostilities of the bung fight between tradition and LIV, Langer is a picture of consistency. He won by the truckload back in the day and he wins by the truckload now as the oldest swinger in town on the over-50s PGA Champions Tour.

Last month that meant reworking his own record as the oldest winner of a senior tour event at 65 and next up is the barely believable feat of catching Hale Irwin as the most dominant figure in the circuit’s history.

Irwin won 45 titles on the oldies tour, the last of which came when he was 61. Langer has 44, taking in 11 senior majors to go with the two Masters crowns and 45 other wins he collected on the PGA and European Tour as a younger man. As a body of work, with 120 worldwide victories spanning 1980 until 2022, it must rank among the most remarkable assembled in any sport.

The 65-year-old has celebrated 120 victories worldwide between 1980 and 2022

‘I never really thought I would get anywhere near Hale until the last couple of years,’ says Langer.

‘It’s getting closer and closer, but I’m getting older and older. The younger guys coming out now hit the ball quite a bit further than me but I think there’s still a bunch of courses where I can win.

‘Lately I’ve been shooting my age a couple of times and that’s new — I shot 64 on my 64th birthday. The other week, I shot a 64 when I was 65.

‘I don’t know how long I’m going to keep going but three things have to be present for me — I have to be healthy, it’s got to be fun and I need to have success. If one of those is missing, put away the spikes.

The German has won 44 titles, taking in 11 senior majors to go with the two Masters crowns

‘But none of it is to do with Hale’s record.’

It is an accidental point of symmetry that Langer is again in pursuit of Irwin, who happened to be his opponent on one of the most famous days of his career.

Although Langer was twice the Masters champion and became golf’s first official world No 1, the German faces near daily reminders of the 1991 Ryder Cup, when he fought back from two down with four to play in his singles against Irwin, only to then miss the six-footer at 18 that would have retained the trophy for Europe.

‘Here we go again — I’m still chasing him but in a different way,’ Langer (below) says. That Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island remains scorched into Langer’s memory, not only for the way it ended, but also the hostilities of the week, which became known as the ‘War on the Shore’.

Antics included a local radio station giving out the hotel room numbers of the European team, leading to calls at all times of night, and there remains the unsolved mystery of how Irwin’s sharply hooked drive at 18 ended up on the fairway. ‘Hale and I actually went back there some years later and did a company day,’ Langer says. ‘Neither of us know a whole lot about it. I was told the ball hit someone and bounced back. I didn’t know whether it maybe got kicked a little further by a fan but it ended up in a pretty good spot.

Langer played with his son Jason, 22, at the PNC Championship in Orlando last week

‘A lot happened that week and not all of it was good. There were headlines of war, which is really in bad taste, and it was all very lively. I believe there was some heckling between Paul Azinger and Seve Ballesteros as well — they didn’t get along. And of course my putt, that comes up from time to time!

‘But it is the Ryder Cup. Whatever else is going on, it is one of the biggest events in sport and that is why we love it.’

It is a sound theory but one that is currently being tested like never before. Going into a Ryder Cup year, golf is in an unprecedented state of turmoil owing to the LIV incursion, which has left Langer frustrated by the actions of his former rival, Greg Norman, who has steered the breakaway.

Among other acts of disruption, one of Langer’s successors as European captain, Henrik Stenson, was poached.

Langer, a 10-cup veteran who also gave the current European captain Luke Donald his debut, says: ‘I really don’t like it at all. I don’t think it’s good for the game. I think it’s more divisive than anything else.

Langer missed a crucial putt against Hale Irwin that would have retained the Ryder Cup in 1991

‘I can see the argument on both sides where some players are offered so much money it’s hard to turn down. But if they decide to go down that route, they can’t expect to come back and have the best of both worlds.’

As with many, Langer did not see the need for golf’s various shortcomings to be addressed by such drastic changes.

‘I didn’t think it was necessary at all,’ he says. ‘If you asked most of my colleagues, they were pretty happy with what they were earning and what was going on in a system that was proven for many years. I didn’t think there was a need to change it dramatically.

‘Greg is saying he’s trying to grow the game. I don’t see it happening, not with what he’s up to at this point in time, but the future will tell.’

It will. But some uncertainties are easier to figure out than others. LIV? That’s a tough one. Langer getting the better of Irwin 31 years on? That’s a safer bet.

Bernhard Langer, an ambassador for Mercedes-Benz, was speaking at the Mercedes Trophy World Final.

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