Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.
Bernhard Langer won his 9th major championship on the Champions Tour on Sunday to pass Jack Nicklaus’ record. He’s also second in total wins on that circuit behind only Hale Irwin and has won the money title eight of the last nine years. How do you view Langer’s accomplishments and is he the greatest senior player of all time?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I think Bernhard Langer is one of the greatest players of all time, period. His cumulative career has been stellar, when you consider that he’s been a top contender since his first Masters victory, in 1985. He also won 42 times on the European Tour. I’d put him in the Top 20 All-Time. But the guy is so quiet and colourless, people tend to forget all about him, which is too bad because he deserves more awe and respect.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): Langer is a machine and appears to be in a class of his own on the Champions Tour. No one else on the senior circuit has more than one win this season. Langer, on the other hand, has already won three events in just nine starts, including two majors! That’s ridiculous! As for the other question, Langer might just be the greatest senior player of all time but I am not ready to make that declaration just yet. Hale Irwin still has 13 more Champions Tour victories than the German, although Langer has already eclipsed both his and Nicklaus’ major marks and does not appear to be slowing down any time soon. Once Langer gets to 40 wins on the over-50 circuit, which could very well happen this year if he maintains his torrid pace, I will be ready to crown him as the undisputed greatest senior player ever. Until then, Langer and Irwin are 1 and 1A in my books.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): He may not be the greatest player based on talent, percentage of wins, etc, but given his longevity and consistency, he has the best record on the Champions Tour and that certainly has him in the discussion as best player that Tour has ever seen. It’s incredible that at almost 60, he’s still dominating the Tour, and competing in the Masters every year. If he had been able to anchor his putter last year, he could have maybe won the Masters at 58! His dedication to his game is impressive indeed.
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Not that it matters, but guess he is the best. Since day one of the Seniors’ Tour, I have not met anyone who has attended a Seniors’ tourney; and don’t know anyone among my golfing pals, relatives and strangers who have ever watched one on TV, I haven’t either. So it comes as news that Langer has been doing so well. Not that it matters, but were there 5 Majors every season on the old boys pension circuit when Jack was playing it? Then again, did Jack play against even half as many fit and non-Champion wannabes striving for an extra few million to ease the twilight years? No one other than family members care, but good on old (just 59) Bernie for being so relentlessly meticulous (assume he still plays a 4-hour round in 5) and dedicated to being the best.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): The senior circuit has a habit of finding unlikely champions who dominate for a prolonged period. Remember Gil Morgan, Dana Quigley and Bruce Fleisher – all players who went mostly unnoticed during their PGA Tour days but excelled against the over 50 crowd. Langer has a much better resume, including his two Masters wins and 42 Euro Tour wins, but still flew under the radar for most of his career. Exceptional health and an obsessive desire to compete keep these guys at the top of their game long after bigger stars have lost interest. Would Hale Irwin be the all time win leader on The Champions Tour if his contemporaries such as Nicklaus, Miller, Weiskopf and Floyd had stayed healthy and competitive? Would Langer’s senior career record be the same if Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and a few others had the desire to keep going? We’ll never know and you certainly can’t blame Langer – he can only beat the players that actually tee it up, not the legends who gave up.
There were a lot of great storylines emanating from the Dean & Deluca Invitational at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth this past weekend including Kevin Kisner’s victory, Jordan Spieth almost defending last year’s win despite missing his last two cuts, the continued presence of Jon Rahm on leaderboards, Steve Stricker’s incredible 63, the history of a great traditional course and its connection to Ben Hogan and many more. What resonated most with you about the event?
Deeks: Sorry, didn’t watch it. Too busy making a mess of my own game over the weekend. But I did read an interesting story… a number of Tour pro’s were handed Hogan’s original driver and 1-iron on the range on Thursday or Friday. The driver head was about the size of today’s hybrids, and the 1-iron had a loft of about .1 degree. None of the players could hit either club with any proficiency, or distance. Just goes to show how much equipment has improved in 65 years, and made today’s players so much better, straighter and longer.
Kaplan: I think we’ve certainly already established that Jon Rahm is no ordinary rookie, so my biggest takeaway from the week was the way Spieth fought back both over the weekend and down the stretch at the Dean & DeLuca Championship. Spieth had missed back-to-back cuts and was really struggling with his putting stroke prior to the tournament, but rolled the ball exceptionally well over the last three rounds and appears to have it all figured out again. We have now seen runner-up finishes from DJ, Day and Spieth this month and that is a very promising sign heading into the US Open. If Rory McIlroy — AKA Mr. Glass — can find a way to stop injuring himself, we might just have one heck of a showdown at Erin Hills.
Rule: Carrying on with the old person theme, it was pretty impressive to see Steve Stricker turn back the clock and post an impressive Sunday score on a course that wasn’t giving up low numbers. I’ve always been a fan of Strick and it’s nice to see him play well. Hopefully he can play a bit more this year, leading into the next question…
Quinn: Love the course and the history, that’s why its new title resonates and grates in equal measure. Getting an invite from Mr. Hogan was one thing. Getting one from a couple of guys called Dean and Deluca, or from the corporate headquarters of the grocery store chain, ain’t quite the same. So when the talking heads yak about the ‘history,’ ‘past champions’ of the D&D, it is beyond aggravating. Those guys won The Colonial, not the New York deli invite tourney. But always a treat to watch great players on a classic layout in a Texas wind.
Mumford: Steve Stricker’s assault on the tournament single day scoring record was an incredible feat for a part time player in his waning years but for me the story this year, as it is almost every year, was the continued strength of Colonial Country Club. The John Bredemus / Perry Maxwell design has endured for 81 years and still refuses to give up too many birdies and exacts significant revenge for any player off his game. The course is flat out tough – a par 70 where the shortest par 3 is 190 yards. I’m sure a lot of the bomb and gouge types don’t like the narrow fairway corridors and lack of reachable par 5’s. The list of previous winners is mostly made up of shot-makers, not necessarily long hitters. Corey Pavin, Ben Crenshaw and Zach Johnson all won the Colonial Invitational twice each. And of course, the best shot-maker of them all, Ben Hogan, won there five times. The course is the story.
Speaking of Steve Stricker, the 50 year old Wisconsin native is not otherwise eligible to play in this year’s U.S. Open at Erin Hills in his home state. Given Stricker’s past contributions to the game, should the USGA extend a special invitation to him to play in this year’s Open?
Deeks: Yes, they sure should. One of the finest guys to play on Tour over the last 30 years, and a noble ambassador of golf in Wisconsin. It would be a huge insult not to include him, and in my view of his play, a major oversight.
Kaplan: LOL. If the USGA is known for anything, it’s for doing the right thing! But seriously, I really don’t care if Stricker is in the field or not. The guy has played in 19 US Opens over his career. That is plenty. If the USGA wants to give out charitable invitations, why not send one this way? I’d be happy to take a week off work!
Rule: Doing a bit of research, it seems like 52 exemptions have been given out to 34 different players over the years, the last one given to Retief Goosen last year. Given Stricker’s contributions to the game, and that he’s a hometown favourite, I think it’s a no-brainer that they extend him an invite, and I hope they do. He may not have the length to compete in a US Open, but you never know, he’s still a hell of a player!
Quinn: As background noise, Sir Nick was going on at length about it. He seems to think Stricker should have gotten a pass. Yet thousands tried to qualify, and all but a few failed. But those who did deserve their spot and shouldn’t be dumped — or bumped, to use the American Airlines term — for any reason, especially nostalgia. Anyway, Stricker, who plays as little as possible, doesn’t seem to be the type who would feel good about getting any special treatment.
Mumford: Absolutely give him a special exemption or whatever it takes to get him into the field. If anybody is deserving of some recognition, especially with the Championship in his home state, surely it’s Steve Stricker. The USGA likes to say that the U.S. Open is the most democratic of all the Majors for its wide open qualifying process and the relatively small number of exempt players. Well that’s all nice and good but if they don’t find a spot for Steve Stricker, it will be a sad day in dairyland.