Bernhard Langer and the 2014 Ryder Cup
Lee Trevino, Larry Nelson, Raymond Floyd, Hale Irwin, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Bruce Lietzke all have a few things in common.
- They are all golfers.
- They are all American.
- They all played in the 1981 Ryder Cup.
One other thing they all have in common is that at that Ryder Cup in 1981 at Walton Heath, they played against 23-year old Bernhard Langer, who was making his tournament debut for John Jacobs’ European side. The Americans trounced the Europeans, who were missing Seve Ballesteros due to a dispute the Spaniard was having with the European Tour, winning 18.5 to 9.5. Langer himself was hardly the cause of the loss though, going 1-2 in team play before halving his singles match with Lietzke on Sunday.
Langer would go on to win forty times on the European Tour after that appearance, including twice at the Masters in 1985 and 1993, while representing Europe as a player an additional nine times in the Ryder Cup and once as a non-playing captain in 2004. Since then, Langer has gone on to dominate the Champions Tour, winning an absurd amount of tournaments and establishing himself as the best senior player since Irwin dominated the over-50 tour in the 90’s.
His latest accomplishment came last weekend at Royal Porthcawl when he ran away from the field at the Senior Open Championship. In an event where only five players finished under par, Langer shot 65-66-68-67 for a total of 18-under par, giving him a thirteen shot win over his nearest competitor, Colin Montgomerie. As we quickly approach the Ryder Cup, there’s been a lot of talk about whether or not the nearly 57-year old Langer should be given serious consideration as a player for Paul McGinley’s side at Gleneagles in Scotland.
Just as a refresher, here are the nine players currently qualified for Team Europe: Rory McIlroy, Victor Dubuisson, Jamie Donaldson, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Thomas Bjorn and Luke Donald. Now, Donald is barely hanging on to that ninth spot based on the Official World Golf Rankings, and it’s very possible that he and his 10-4-1 record in the Ryder Cup could slip out of a guaranteed spot, likely allowing Graeme McDowell or Stephen Gallacher to take his spot. Leaving Langer aside, here are some notable names that would currently be relying on McGinley’s three captain’s picks to make the trip to Gleneagles: McDowell, Gallacher, Ian Poulter, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Francesco Molinari, Joost Luiten, and Lee Westwood.
You can keep going down that list too and you’ll see names like Paul Casey and Matteo Manassero, plus players who have been playing great golf in Europe like Mikko Ilonen and Pablo Larrazabal. The list of options that McGinley has at his disposal is significant, and you can make the argument that this could be Europe’s strongest side since the format switch in 1979. Unless McGinley does something shocking, like not take Poulter or McDowell, you have to think that there’s only one spot truly available and even though his form hasn’t been great, it’s also pretty tough to imagine Westwood not being selected given his record and that he’s played in every one of these things since 1997.
Let’s look at the logistics. Gleneagles is a very long, American style track designed by Jack Nicklaus where you’re going to need length off of the tee, and as much as Langer’s run should be applauded, it’s muted quite a bit by the fact that he’s been doing it against lesser competition. Ben Coley touched on this earlier today in a piece for Sporting Life, suggesting that Langer would be competing on the PGA or European Tours if he thought he was good enough to do it on a weekly basis. Yes, he finished well at the Masters, but this is also a player who outside of that, hasn’t finished inside the top-10 on the two best male tours in the world since 2009 and hasn’t been a regular on either circuit really since 2003.
Do I think McGinley is seriously considering Langer? The thought probably entered his mind during the Senior Open last week, and while it would be a great story to see a former captain come back and play twelve years after his last active appearance, it’s not logical. The rivalry between the two sides certainly isn’t as fierce as it once was, but McGinley and Watson both want to win this thing desperately, and that means putting the best possible team together at Gleneagles. With the guys available, that simply doesn’t include Bernhard Langer.