EDMOND — Five-time Ryder Cup teammate Colin Montgomerie said Bernhard Langer has been hotter than Germany’s soccer team.
“Which is ridiculously good,” Montgomerie said. “Clinically, I’d say their football team is very sound, but so is Bernhard Langer. Their football team is very well prepared; so is Bernhard Langer. All in all, we have someone that we should be very proud of, someone who is dominating the (Champions) Tour.
“I hate to say at (age) 57 he’s raising his game to new standards, but that’s what he’s doing. It’s fantastic to see someone can actually improve over (age) 50. There are very few guys that can improve over 40. Bernhard Langer appears to be improving over 50, so of course he’s the guy to beat.”
When asked to name a favorite to win the 2014 U.S. Senior Open, which begins Thursday at Oak Tree National, Langer is the first name everyone mentions. The German has been that dominant since he joined the Champions Tour six years ago.
“He’s driving it longer than he probably ever has and he’s driving it even longer this year than a couple of years ago,” said Tom Lehman, who has 34 career pro wins. “He’s totally committed to do whatever it takes to stay at this level, whether it’s testing new equipment, staying in good shape, all those things.”
Langer said a meticulous work ethic was engrained in him growing up in Anhausen when money was scarce. His father was a bricklayer while his mother was a homemaker who looked after the kids. The family couldn’t afford a car, so everyone rode bicycles.
“Coming from a humble background, having to work for everything, helped me,” Langer said earlier this year. “Nothing was handed to me. Seeing my parents work extremely hard their whole life had a profound influence on me. I don’t shy away from hard work. I’d like to think I’m pretty disciplined.”
That work ethic has helped Langer take his game to a new level when other Champions Tour players are simply trying to remain competitive.
The winner of the 1985 and 1993 Masters, Langer joins Gary Player, David Graham and Hale Irwin as the only four players to win an official tournament on six continents.
Inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2002, Langer has played on 10 Ryder Cup teams. Despite his success, he’s motivated to improve.
“Because golf is so technical and so mental, you actually can get better because you have had more time to groove the swing and fine-tune it,” Langer said. “Secondly, you’re still learning about yourself and the mental part of the game, what shots you can pull off, what shots you can’t pull off, just play the game in general.
“I believe this is a very unique sport where you can still maintain a very high level. Whether I’m better, or five or 10 percent worse, who knows? But on golf courses that aren’t 7,600 yards long, I think I can still compete with the very best.”
Langer has been the very best on the Champions Tour. He’s been the leading money winner on the senior circuit five of his first six seasons. He has three wins this season; no other player has more than one.
Even though purses are much smaller than the PGA Tour, Langer already has earned more than $14 million on the senior circuit. He has collected 21 career Champions Tour wins and is closing in on Oak Tree’s Gil Morgan (25), who ranks third in senior history.
Langer also is approaching a magical number: 100.
With 92 career pro wins, Langer is just eight wins shy of joining Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Sam Snead as the only golfers to notch 100 career wins.
“I’m not playing for records. I just play to have fun and play every round as good as I can,” Langer said. “But to get near 100 wins or over it would be quite an achievement. Not a lot of people have done that.”
Asked if he’s the favorite at the 35th U.S. Senior Open, Langer said he’s playing with confidence but will have to play well to host the Francis Ouimet trophy, named after the 1913 U.S. Open winner.
“I’m not sure if I’m the favorite, but I’m probably one of the favorites,” Langer said. “There are a lot of good players in the field. I think the most important club this week probably is the driver.
“I would think this is the hardest course I’ve ever played or one of the hardest courses the way it’s set up right now. It’s extremely demanding. If the wind blows on top of that, it’s going to make it even harder.”
Langer said his upbringing is a constant reminder he would never take his career for granted.
“What keeps me motivated is I love to play competitive golf,” Langer said. “I really enjoy it when the adrenaline is going through your body, to be in contention, have the opportunity to win tournaments. But my main goal every week is to have fun because I know I only have so many years left.”
Langer, though, has proved getting older doesn’t mean you can’t improve.
“It’s incredible that he’s been able to keep on top of his game no matter what age level he’s been at,” Lehman said. “He works awfully hard and he works very smart. The thing I always take away from being around Bernhard is his commitment is to being the best he can be.”