A rising star at 1976 World Cup, Bernard Langer returns to desert as ageless wonder
It was 1976, and Bernhard Langer of West Germany was a rising 19-year-old golf star making his first trip to the United States.
The occasion was the World Cup at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, the international golf event featuring two-man teams from around the world. Langer admits he doesn’t remember much about the competition, struggling to even remember his partner for the week. But Langer does remember it was a big deal.
“For a tournament golfer, it was always fantastic to represent the country,” said Langer, who is returning to Mission Hills this week for the first time in 47 years for the inaugural Galleri Classic on the PGA Tour Champions. “The World Cup then was a meaningful tournament. Maybe it still is. But is was certainly a great tournament and you had really most of the great players from each country competing, including America. Just being there was like the Olympics.”
Back then, Langer was a potential star in the game, playing in the same field like young stars Greg Norman of Australia and another 19-year-old, Seve Ballesteros from the Spanish team that won the title by two shots over the United States team of Dave Stockton and Jerry Pate. As Langer returns to the desert this week for the 54-hole tournament, he is the 65-year-old ageless wonder whose next PGA Tour Champions win will snap a tie with Hale Irwin for the most career wins on the tour.
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Langer’s first PGA Tour Champions event came in 2008 and his most recent came last month in the Chubb Classic in Florida. Langer nearly earned the 46th victory last week at the Hoag Classic in Newport beach, but a few missed putts and wayward drives on the back nine Sunday dropped him back to a tie for seventh.
“I didn’t have any idea about that,” Langer said of his longevity. “I had no clue what the future might hold and how long this might last or if it is going to last. So that part is pretty amazing.”
Not only has Langer outlasted most of the players in that World Cup field, but he has also outlasted the LPGA's presence on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course. In 1976, the LPGA event known as the Colgate Dinah Shore Winner's Circle was in its fifth year of existence. Last year that tournament ended its run in the desert after 51 years, moving this season to Houston.
Just two weeks after last year's final tournament for the women, the PGA Tour Champions announced they would bring a new tournament, the Galleri Classic, to the course in 2023.
Langer went on to become a winner of two Masters and was a stalwart on the European Ryder Cup teams that started beating the United States team on a regular basis in the 1980s and 1990s. But his lasting impact on the game may be his longevity and his ability to keep playing and winning on the PGA Tour Champions. It’s a long way from the probing steps Langer was taking in 1976.
“We knew we weren’t going to win the World Cup then, even though I won it twice later in my career,” Langer said. “We knew that wasn’t going to happen. But just being here and watching some of the greats and competing on the same course and comparing yourself to them and seeing where you fall short was quite an experience.”
What Langer doesn’t remember about the Dinah Shore Tournament Course, which in 1976 was the only course at Mission Hills, he is trying to re-learn this week.
“You have to drive it well, because the rough is fairly decent. You can hit the ball, but you’ve got less spin, less control,” Langer said of his initial impressions of the course this week. “The greens were very firm on Monday. I know we have had some rain. But it is going to be much harder to play out of the rough. So I think it is very important to hit the fairways so you can attack.”
Like most golfers in the field, Langer is getting to know the course, or at least getting to know it well this week. A win in the first Galleri Classic would hold a special place for the Germany star, he said.
“It is always special to win any event but winning an inaugural event just proves you can compete and do your best on a golf course you haven’t seen,” Langer said. “So that means maybe even more.”
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Galleri Classic: Five decades later, Bernhard Langer returns to desert as a star