The number sits on top of a very high mountain: 45.
Hale Irwin has won an unprecedented 45 PGA TOUR Champions titles in his World Golf Hall of Fame career.
Bernhard Langer is now second on that list, with 32 victories. Can a man who turns 60 years old on August 27, a Hall of Famer in his own right, reach the top of that mountain?
“There are many other goals,” Langer said Wednesday at the Principal Charity Classic. “The goal is to improve, to get better.”
That’s a scary thought for the other players on the PGA TOUR Champions.
Langer comes to town riding momentum from victories in back-to-back majors, the Regions Tradition and Senior PGA Championship. His nine major triumphs are the most ever. Jack Nicklaus won eight.
He’s won $1,664,651 this season, more than double the No.2 money winner, defending Principal Charity Classic champion Scott McCarron.
Langer is on a fast track to surpass the $2 million mark for the sixth straight season. His $22 million and change in career earnings is second all-time to Irwin’s $27 million.
Langer’s won the Schwab Cup four times, including three years in a row. He’s won the Arnold Palmer Trophy, which goes to the leading money winner, eight times. He’s won the Jack Nicklaus Award, which goes to the player of the year, six times. He’s won the Bryon Nelson Award, which goes to the player with the lowest stroke average, five times.
Langer calls those achievements “short-term, intermediate goals. And then if I achieve some of that, I might have a shot at Hale Irwin. But it’s very unlikely.”
This week poses a different challenge for the two-time Masters champion. He’s out to unlock the secret of Wakonda, a course that has had his number on his previous two visits.
Langer tied for 31st in 2013, and tied for 48th in 2015. Both were his poorest finish of the season. Now he’s looking to turn that around.
“It has been on my mind,” Langer said. “I’ve been pondering what it is. I haven’t had a win here, or a top three, which I have had at many other places. It’s a different golf course. Very hilly, with lots of sidehill, downhill and uphill lies. It’s a very undulating course in general. But the greens are also tricky. I’m going to be contemplating that more in the next couple of days.”
Langer’s play at Wakonda is out of character. In addition to his 32 career victories, he’s had 26 runner-up finishes and 21 thirds. He’s had 140 Top 10 finishes in 196 events, a salty 71.4 percent.
As he prepares for Friday’s first round, Langer said he’s going to “see where I might have made mistakes in the past, or what part of the course gets me so I don’t perform as well as the others do.”
Langer has won at least once in each of the 11 years he’s played on the PGA TOUR Champions. And he’s shown no signs of slowing down. His secret?
“It’s not a diet,” Langer said. “I love desserts. I’m a sugar addict. On the other hand I eat reasonably well. I love vegetables and salads and all that kind of stuff. I don’t drink much alcohol. I don’t take any medication of any sorts. I try and live a healthy, active lifestyle. I work out. I have good genes. Maybe that’s what it takes.”
Being able to compete at a winning level consistently requires “a whole list of things,” Langer said. “It’s like a puzzle. It all has to come together. You’ve got to be healthy. Otherwise you can’t play the game you want to. You have to pace yourself. You have to have a good support system…your family around you, coaches, caddies, things like that. And you have to be eager and willing to work at it still.”
For four decades, that’s just what Langer has done.
“But I take a lot of time off, “ Langer said. “I get away from the game. When I do come back, I’m usually hungry and eager to do what I need to do.”
One of Langer’s many Top 10 finishes came at the 2012 Principal Charity Classic at Glen Oaks. This is his fifth appearance in the event.
“I think it’s a great event,” Langer said. “The people are phenomenal here. They do such a great job of putting so much effort into it. It’s been very well supported. I’m happy to be here and support the tournament. They raise a lot of money for charity. That’s what it’s all about.”
By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter