Bernhard Langer ready for U.S. Senior Open title defense despite issues from Achilles injury


Bernhard Langer continues to defy the odds.

On Feb. 1, 2024, the two-time Masters champion ruptured his Achilles while playing pickleball and miraculously returned to the PGA Tour Champions three months later. This injury typically takes 12 months to recover, but the 66-year-old German has insisted on returning to competition.

Since his three-month hiatus, Langer has played in five events, recording a pair of top 10s at the Regions Tradition and the Principal Charity Classic, where he finished third. He most recently tied for 21st at the Dick’s Open, but if not for a second-round 3-over 75, he would have fared better.

Yet, Langer, who uses a golf cart to get around, still has lingering issues stemming from the injury. He admitted as such ahead of this week’s U.S. Senior Open at Newport Country Club, where he will defend his title.

“My leg and my ankle are swollen. It’s fatigue. I don’t have the range of motion in my foot,” Langer said.

Bernhard Langer, KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

Bernhard Langer during the 2024 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship.
Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

“There are various things that aren’t there yet. My balance is not where I want it to be, and my strength. My calf muscle is probably one or two inches smaller than the other leg. I can’t get on my tiptoes. Right foot, I can do that. Just my right foot. I tried it on my left and nothing. I’ve got a ways to go, but I’m happy to be playing golf. The good thing is I can get carts in tournaments because right now, I can’t walk four or five days, 18 holes. It’s impossible. I tried to walk nine holes, and that was a stretch. That’s where we are at the moment—hopefully improving every week.”

No doubt that Langer has seen improvement since his Achilles injury, but he can still compete because of his health, which he takes great pride in.

“You have to be reasonably healthy because if not, you can’t do what you want to do and can’t swing the way you want to swing,” Langer added.

“I was born with a competitive nature, so I have a healthy drive and live a disciplined life, which probably helps. And the willingness to put in the work. I’m 66, and many people say, ‘Why don’t you retire?’ I guess I could, but I love the game of golf, and I love to compete. I’m still good enough to compete and be up there where I can win tournaments. When that changes, when I feel like I’m going to finish in the bottom third of the field every week I compete, then it’s probably time to quit. Hopefully, I will know when that is.”

Langer continues to finish in the upper tier of PGA Tour Champions events, despite many of his competitors being 10-to-15 years younger than him. But he has no plans to slow down, which can be attributed to his healthy lifestyle.

He does not drink alcohol. He does not smoke.

Instead, Langer, like Gary Player has done for years, continues to exercise and stretch every day. He has done so for as long as he can remember.

“The body functions better when we move the body,” Langer explained.

Bernhard Langer, DICK’S Sporting Goods Open

Bernhard Langer hits a chip-shot during the Dick’s Open.
Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

“If we become too sedentary, you’ll pay the price for it sooner or later. I talked to my physical therapist, and he said, ‘If you lay two weeks in the hospital, just two weeks, don’t do anything, guess how much strength you lose? 50 percent.’ I was shocked. That only encourages me to do more, do something every day instead of just lying around for a few days in a row.”

Despite his impressive health regimens, did Langer have concerns about how his body would function after his injury?

Of course, he did.

But two months after his operation, Langer’s surgeon and physical therapist approached him and said, “I think you can try and putt a little bit and chip.”

He then progressed to hitting 50-yard and 100-yard shots. A week or two later, his medical team gave him the green light to try full swings with his driver and irons.

“I hit some wedges, no problem. If I can hit a full wedge, I can hit a full 7-iron. Hit a full 7-iron, no problem. Grabbed the 3-iron, no problem. The next day I grabbed the driver and had no problem swinging the club,” Langer said.

Bernhard Langer, Principal Charity Classic

Bernhard Langer at the Principal Charity Classic.
Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

“But I was very concerned at the beginning that I would change my swing because of my injury, and I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to come back sooner and create a new swing that probably wouldn’t be as good, and then I’d have to spend weeks and months redoing later when I’m better at what I taught myself.”

Langer then brought in his swing coach and went to the driving range.

“I don’t want to change my swing,” Langer said to his coach.

“I want to swing the way I did before, and if my body doesn’t allow me, I’m not going to play.”

Well, Langer and his coach looked at his swing, and it looked perfectly fine.

“That was very encouraging because that meant now I can practice and compete if I can get a golf cart because I couldn’t walk,” Langer added.

“As long as they give me a golf cart, I can actually play in tournaments.”

Not only can he play, but Langer continues to compete with some of the best senior players on the planet—almost as if he did not sustain this injury in the first place.

Yet, he believes he can win the U.S. Senior Open, which would mark an incredible feat given the circumstances. It would likely go down as the most improbable win in U.S. Senior Open history should Langer go on to win.

But would you be surprised?

Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough for more golf coverage. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_milko as well.





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