John McGrath

John McGrath: Bernhard Langer loves the Pacific Northwest and for golf fans it’s mutual

Bernhard Langer holds the glass trophy after winning his second Boeing Classic championship on Sunday. Langer birdied six of the final nine holes to force a three-way playoff.
Bernhard Langer holds the glass trophy after winning his second Boeing Classic championship on Sunday. Langer birdied six of the final nine holes to force a three-way playoff. The Seattle Times

Whenever Bernhard Langer rolled in a putt Sunday on the back nine at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge, a spectator voiced her approval with the kind of high-pitched shriek that should draw a $500 fine for a first offense and lifetime banishment from all sporting events for a second offense.

It’s difficult to scream something more obnoxious than “You Da Man!” or “Go In The Hole!,” but the fan was up to the task.

If Langer noticed — and as steely as his temperament is, it’s possible he didn’t — the Boeing Classic champion would have found the sound of an ever-approving gallery member quite different from his final-round showdown against Fred Couples for the 2010 U.S. Senior Open championship.

Those Sahalee crowds were in an all-Fred, all-the-time mode that gave the Seattle native what amounted to a home-field advantage. But his German opponent was unruffled, and when he returned to the Seattle area three weeks later to win the Boeing Classic, fans greeted him more as a friend than a foe.

When Langer converted a birdie putt from within three feet to beat Kevin Sutherland and Woody Austin in a playoff Sunday, the gallery reacted as if Langer had learned to play golf on the same Seattle metro courses where Couples polished his game.

“I feel very blessed,” Langer told the Golf Channel’s Dave Marr before the awards presentation. “This is one of my favorite events. Just looking over at the mountains and the hills, it’s God’s creation. Very special.”

So is Langer, who first gained international prominence as the Joe Montana look-alike whose name occupied the leaderboard at the 1981 British Open.

Germany was not known for the preponderance of championship golfers it produced in 1981, prompting the late Atlanta Journal columnist Furman Bisher to write: “German kids don’t learn how to play golf when they’re growing up. German kids learn how to yodel and take over the world.”

Langer ended up tying for second in The Open, behind American Bill Rodgers, and he’s been a force on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean ever since. His rally on Sunday after a pedestrian front nine gave him his 29th Champions Tour victory — only Hale Irwin has won more — and was his 102nd championship worldwide.

The key to the final-round comeback, he told Marr, was a swing adjustment advised by his coach.

Marr then asked what the swing adjustment entailed, a question any responsible interviewer should bring up. One problem: Talking to a golfers about swing adjustments is like talking to pitchers about arm angles and release points.

They talk and we listen, and before long — five seconds or so — the words dissolve into a haze of gibberish.

“Too much underneath,” explained Langer. “I was trying to get my shot steeper on the back swing and I needed to cover it. But I wasn’t covering it. I was getting under it, and either slicing or pulling it.”

Got that?

I didn’t understand anything Langer said, but I could tell he was quite more comfortable amid Seattle-area golf fans than he was six years ago at Sahalee, where he occupied the role of detached foreigner dueling it out with the beloved Couples.

“It’s never much fun, but I’ve had it before,” he said in 2010. “When you play in the same group as Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer or any of the big names — or in the Ryder Cup — you get a lot more of this. So I knew it was coming, which didn’t make it any easier.”

Couples’ persistent back problems forced him to withdraw from the Boeing Classic field. He’s 56, hasn’t competed in a tournament since February, and it’s hard not to wonder if we’ve seen the last of that sweet, deceivingly easy swing.

As for Langer, he celebrated his 59th birthday Saturday, then won Sunday in a scenic setting he described as “God’s creation.”

He wasn’t home, not exactly, but he wasn’t a one-time visitor, either. Bernard Langer will return. He loves the Pacific Northwest, and the Pacific Northwest loves him back.