OCALA, FL. – Bernhard Langer, appropriately enough, has always been the focal point of the upcoming Chubb Classic but now – due an unfortunate circumstance – it’s for the wrong reason.
Langer tied Hale Irwin’s record for PGA Tour Champions wins with his 46th at last year’s Chubb event, a tournament he has won five times. This year he was poised to tie another Irwin mark, for victories in the same event on the 50-and over circuit.
That possibility evaporated on Friday when Langer revealed he had suffered a torn Achilles tendon in a Thursday practice session in Boca Raton. He had surgery on Friday.
“It will cause me to miss time playing competitive golf as I recover,’’ Langer said in a statement. “Throughout my career, faith and family have been my bedrocks, providing me strength and guiding me through difficult times. I will lean on both again as I work towards a return to competition. I look forward to seeing the fans and my fellow competitors back on the course soon.’’
How soon is yet to be determined, but no doubt he’ll be missed when the Chubb returns to Tiburon in Naples, FL. That’s where he won last season to tie Irwin’s career win record on the Champions circuit with his 45th victory. He passed Irwin with another win at the U.S. Senior Open in July.
Had Langer been able to pull off a three-peat at Tiburon he would have tied Irwin’s mark with six victories in the same event. Irwin won six times at Hawaii’s Turtle Run Resort from 1997 to 2005.
With Langer now on the mend, it’s time to wonder if his record of 46 victories on the 50-and-over circuit will ever be broken. Not many records in golf have seemed as insurmountable as that one, but Steve Stricker is 10 years younger and lurking – at least sort of.
Stricker turns 57 the week after the 37th playing of a Champions Tour event in Naples. The Chubb, which is Feb. 16-18 on Tiburon’s Black Course, is the longest-running title sponsor on PGA Tour Champions.
Now 66, Langer has lived in Boca Raton – near Naples – for 40 years. He’s used to the Bermuda grasses and grainy greens of that area and was particularly disappointed to miss an event at Tiburon.
“It feels like a home game to me,’’ he said. “and I’ve played some of my best golf in the Naples area.’’
But, like all of us, Langer is getting older. Earlier this year he announced that he’ll be making his final competitive appearance at the Masters in April. Whether he’ll be recovered in time to play at Augusta National is uncertain.
The first PGA Tour Champions event of the season didn’t find Langer at his best. He tied for 22nd in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Hawaii, where Steven Alker won. Langer dismissed that showing for good reasons.
“I felt rusty,’’ he said. “They also changed that golf course. It’s almost the opposite from Tiburon. It’s wide open. There’s no rough at all. There’s very little punishment if you spray it, and the bombers have a huge advantage.’’
Langer was also still shaking off the death of his mother, who was 100 and living in Germany at the time of her passing.
“We traveled to Germany for a couple of weeks and no golf, obviously. There was snow and cold weather,’’ he said.
Now, back to the possibility of his Champions Tour win record withstanding the tests of time. Irwin, now 78, won’t be a factor because he rarely competes any more. His last win was in 2007.
The leading candidate to chase down Langer now is Steve Stricker, who won six times in 16 starts in 2023 and has 17 career victories on the 50-and-over circuit. He’s coming off a third-place finish in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship.
Stricker’s task is a daunting one. He got his 17 wins in 64 Champions starts. Irwin needed 481 to win 45 times. Langer’s 46 came in 341 tournaments. To pass Langer’s present total Stricker would have to average six wins a season for the next five campaigns.
At this point Stricker’s not motivated by catching Langer.
“My family’s into golf,’’ he said. “My wife caddies and plays a lot. My kids are big golfers, and they’ve been on the bag, so it’s been a family affair. If it wasn’t that way I don’t know if I’d be out there.’’
Langer was considering a reduction in his tournaments, from 25 a season to maybe as few as 20 even before the Achilles injury. Some courses, Augusta National being one, have changed a lot and don’t suit Langer’s game as well as they had in the past. He still has playing goals, however.
“My overall goal has always been to get better,’’ he said. “If I can achieve that I am confident I will have a chance to win more tournaments.’’
The Chubb Classic will have 78 players competing for $1.8 million. They include Davis Love III, making his tournament debut; Hall of Famer Colin Montgomerie and soon-to-be Hall of Famer Padraig Harrington; two former world No. 1s in David Duval and Tom Lehman and six past Chubb champions. Among them is Stricker, who won the title in 2021 and is a former Naples resident.