Professional golfers, particularly those at the top of the money list, have long talked about gearing their games up for the majors. It’s a practice that probably predated Jack Nicklaus, though the legendary player considered by many to be the greatest in history certainly popularized the approach.
Then there’s Bernhard Langer, who is dominating the PGA Tour Champions as few before him have in the 37-year history of the sport’s 50-and-over circuit. A two-time Masters champion, the 59-year-old German has won the season’s first two majors and nine majors overall since turning 50.
So is Langer honing his game for the tour’s next run of majors — three straight on the schedule in a span of five weeks, including the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship scheduled for Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills on July 13-16?
The short answer: not really.
“I sometimes find it difficult to gear up toward a major,” Langer said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “What are you going to do different? Are you going to go to Augusta [for the Masters] and play a couple of practice rounds two weeks before and figure out what you need to do?
“If you are a complete player, which you kind of need to be to win a major, I think, you should have most of those shots and whatever you need to fine-tune or improve on, you can still do that on short notice a few days before. … A very good player would like to be good all the time.”
Olin Browne, whose two PGA Tour Champions victories include the 2011 U.S. Senior Open, said the biggest difference between the regular events and the majors is that the majors last four rounds, one more than the typical tour stops.
“The better you’re playing, the more rounds you’d rather have in a tournament anyway,” Browne said in a phone interview Wednesday. “What people don’t talk about is what we do out here on the Champions Tour is more like a sprint than a marathon. If you do have to stumble, you have no room to make up ground. If you do fall asleep for three or four holes, you do have some room to make up some ground.”
Langer won this year’s two majors coming from behind. At the Regions Tradition in Birmingham, Ala., in May, Langer came from two shots behind third-round leader Fred Funk to win by five shots after a blistering 64. At the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship in Sterling, Va., Langer trailed Vijay Singh by one shot going into Sunday and wound up outlasting Singh by one.
This year’s schedule crunch of majors is not usual on the PGA Tour Champions. Three years ago, the Regions Tradition and Senior PGA Championship were played in back-to-back weeks in May, while the Constellation Players Championship started a three-majors-in-five-weeks run in late June.
Greg McLaughlin, president of the PGA Tour Champions for the past three years, said Tuesday that scheduling often revolves around the PGA Tour and the fact that there are only 26 tournaments overall, with many playing every week.
“We don’t play opposite of the [PGA Tour] majors, so we wouldn’t play last week [during the U.S. Open] under any circumstance, unlike the LPGA Tour, which did play,” McLaughlin said. “What it really gets down to is logistics and what works for our clients.”
Langer doesn’t think having the three majors — the U.S. Senior Open, which begins Thursday in Salem, Mass., as well as the Senior British Open, which will be played in Wales after the stop in Baltimore — dilutes the product or lessens his hunger to win.
“There’s weeks off in between, so it’s not three weeks in a row,” Langer said. “The majors are usually in the summer and we can’t always have our choice when they may be, but that’s how it’s always been. We have five [majors], so they’re all in a period of whatever they may be, three months.
“It’s similar on the PGA Tour. They’re more spread out, but they’re all in the summer months, too. Some might say it’s not ideal, but on the other hand, we know what it is. It’s the same for everybody and you try to gear your game up for that and work your schedule around it and you make decisions accordingly.”
McLaughlin, who spent more than two decades running events on the PGA Tour, agrees.
“It’s certainly not a diminunition at all in field strength,” McLaughlin said. “Our guys know that leading into the majors, they need to be healthy and playing well. When you think about it, it’s really right at the crest of our season. … It’s the highlight of our year because it’s right in the middle of it.”
Along with the biggest purses on the PGA Tour Champions — the Constellation Seniors Players pays out $ 2.8 million in prize money, with $ 480,000 going to the winner — there is also an exemption to next year’s Players Championship, U.S. Open and The Open Championship on the PGA and European tours.
The Constellation Senior Players Championship marks a return of men’s professional golf to the Baltimore area for the first time since the tournament was held at Baltimore Country Club from 2007 through 2009. The 2002 U.S. Senior Open was also held at Caves Valley.
Langer, who was made an honorary member of Caves Valley a few years ago, will be shooting for his fourth straight Senior Players Championship.
“I don’t feel any extra pressure. I’d like to win again and do well,” Langer said. “I realize it’s another year, a new venue. Just because I won the last three, it doesn’t mean anything in terms of where we’re playing this year.”
Remaining senior majors
U.S. Senior Open Championship: June 29-July 2, Salem Country Club, Peabody, Mass.
Constellation Senior Players Championship: July 13-16, Caves Valley Golf Club, Owings Mills
Senior Open Championship: July 27-30, Royal Porthcawl Golf Club, Bridgend, Wales