Eventually, it always circles back to the subject of age when discussing the Champions (a.k.a. Senior) golf Tour and that was particularly true Wednesday, the day Bernhard Langer turned 57.
The two-time Masters champion is one of the gold-plated attractions of the Shaw Charity Classic, which begins Friday at the Canyon Meadows Golf & Country Club, just days before the deadline for Ryder Cup rosters to be finalized. Langer's candidacy as a possible captain's choice for the European team has been a subject of much speculation in the golf world, none of it necessarily fuelled by European captain Paul McGinley, the man who will ultimately make the decision and has routinely played down the matter.
But the German is in the midst of a magical season – a "Cinderella awesome year" was how fellow Champions Tour player Woody Austin described it a couple of weeks ago. And after Langer won the British Senior Open in July by an astonishing 13 strokes, no less an authority than Tony Jacklin, the much esteemed former Ryder Cup captain, suggested McGinley think "very seriously" about including Langer.
Langer has won five events on the Champions Tour this year, three in his past six starts. He's finished in the top 10 in 15 of his 17 starts and has been the epitome of consistency.
Langer's Ryder Cup debut was way back in 1981. In all, he has represented the European team 10 times as a player, most recently in 2002. He was also the captain in 2004, when Europe recorded its most lopsided away victory ever, and thus understands what McGinley, the man with the final say, is going through in winnowing the field.
"I think the Ryder Cup matters," Langer said. "It's maybe the most thrilling event there is in the world of golf. Obviously, it'd be a great honour to represent my country and my tour one more time, but it's totally up to the captain."
"Obviously, he's got lots of great players to choose from," Langer said. "And the thing is, he's really out of touch with us. He doesn't get to see what we do and where we play and how we play, so it will be hard for him to compare my game with Lee Westwood or Luke Donald or Ian Poulter or any of those guys. And it's a difficult one, so I totally understand [the dilemma].
"I've been there myself some years ago. It was a very tough choice to pick two or three when you really want to pick five."
In listening to Langer, you get the feeling that while he would genuinely love another crack at Ryder Cup competition he knows it is probably a long shot. The fact that he is even in the conversation is the more remarkable part of the equation. People need athletic role models at every age and Langer will acknowledge that he gets lots of feedback from the geriatric set about his ability to compete with the younger generation of players.
"Any of us over 50, we usually pull for each other," Langer said. "When Tom Watson almost won the British Open, I was pulling for him. Whenever somebody does well that's in our age group, we're pulling for them just to show the rest of the world that there's still life in us and in this game, it certainly can be done. I still believe we can get better at our age because it's not all about physical strength. There's a lot of technique and mental and other stuff involved."
The oldest golfer in Ryder Cup history was American Ray Floyd, at the age of 51, in 1993.
Langer has had back issues over the years, and says his health was good up until about 10 days ago when he hurt his back playing soccer with his 14-year-old. He almost pulled out of Endicott, N.Y., two weeks ago, but won anyway, coming from four shots off the pace on the final day with his daughter, Christina, caddying for him. Last week, at Snoqualmie Ridge, Wash., he finished tied for 15th with Fred Couples and says he's being "very careful" with his back.
"I wasn't able to work out the way I wanted to the last couple of weeks because of that, but it's getting a little better. I'm hoping to be on the good end of it, and almost done with it, and continue normal life again."