Emotions ran high as Bernhard Langer walked off the 18th green at St Andrews in 2015. Aged 57, he believed he had played his final ever round in The Open. Worse still, he feared he had just completed his last competitive round at the historic Old Course. his fear was he would be well past it by the time the championship rolls back round to the home of golf in 2021.
But he will return next month, albeit in the Senior Open Championship which is being staged at the world-famous course for the first time, and the form he is in means the popular German has not ruled out a return to the main event or a place on that first tee in three years’ time.
Already the most successful player ever on the Seniors Tour, with more major wins than greats such as Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson, he could become the first player ever to win four Senior Open titles if he can translate his love for the St Andrews links into three winning rounds on 26-29 July.
“The main motivation is the love of the game,” said Langer. “I love to play golf and I love to compete. I’m a very competitive person. I’m good at what I’m doing and I just enjoy it very much. I’ve been very blessed to have played this game now for well over four decades, 42 years as a professional on tour, and to have won all over the world on all the various tours. It’s been a wonderful journey. But I still feel I have some good years left in me. I was one of the dominating players the last few years on the Champions Tour in America, and I’ve won more senior majors than anybody else, and I’d like to win some more.”
Insisting he is now a better player in many ways, the key now is pacing himself, he says. But – only a year older than Tom Watson was when he came so close to being crowned champion golfer at Turnberry in 2009 – if senior glory can be earned and secure him a place in next year’s Open, he has not only not ruled out a return but is happy to promote the idea that some day soon an older golfer could again make a legitimate challenge.
“When asked that question, I’ve always said sooner or later, a senior player, somebody over 50, will win a major,” he said. “Whether it’s going to be an Open Championship or one of the others, I’m not sure, and whether it’s going to be somebody over 60, that gets harder and harder.
“But there are some guys in their 50s that can certainly compete anywhere. The younger generation seems to become more athletic, they work out more, they take care of their bodies, they eat better, the way they prepare is different, and I think that they are going to have more longevity in the future so I’d like to say that looking another ten, 20 years ahead, we’re going to have players that are in their 50s and they are going to be extremely competitive, just because their health and their fitness levels mean they can still hit the ball far enough to compete on any golf course.
“The issue getting older is you lose some length, and some players lose a bit of the putting touch. But if you can keep those two losses to a minimum, you can be competitive anywhere.”
And does that include St Andrews for the 150th edition of The Open in 2021? “Three years from now? Yeah, there’s a possibility,” said Langer. “I would love to be back there. The only way for me to get back there is to win the Senior Open [in 2020] or to try to qualify. Lately I haven’t tried to qualify for anything. My mindset is if I’m not in it, I’m not going to go, but there may still be an opportunity to win the Senior Open Championship and hopefully get in that way, so I would love to come back, yes.”