Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Langer: Meeting the Master at the Masters

Twenty years ago this week, Bernhard Langer surged past Curtis Strange to win his first major golf tournament...the Masters. Still feeling the rush of victory, he stepped into the Butler cabin for the winner's interview -- a destined, fateful moment! Doug Ferguson puts it this way:
Imagine the excitement he felt when he was presented the green jacket in the Butler Cabin. Then came the live interview with CBS Sports, and an innocuous question about whether he looked at the leaderboard.

The response, best Langer can recall, went something like this:

"I looked up for the first time after nine holes and I thought I was playing well, but Jesus Christ! Curtis Strange was four shots ahead.''

When Langer said the words, "Jesus Christ," he really didn't mean offense. It was just a phrase in the culture, a phrase he had grown used to saying. But now he said it on national TV!

Only later did Langer realize what he had said, and the number of people he offended.

"I was not a Christian at the time,'' he said. "It was a powerful expression, and a lot of people used it. A few weeks later, I had a number of fan mail -- well, anti-fan mail -- that said who am I to be swearing on national television? To be using Jesus' name in vain?''

When the outraged fan mail poured in, Langer, being the thinker he is, didn't react in anger. He stepped back and asked himself, "Why should people be upset with what I said?" What is going on here?

The letters didn't make him defensive. They made him think.

He began to ask himself who he was, what was important, what was meaningful to him. One of his friends on the PGA Tour was Bobby Clampett, who routinely invited him to Wednesday night Bible studies.

This time, Langer took him up on the offer and brought his wife, Vikki, whom he had met at the 1983 Inverrary Classic and married a year later. The message that night was one of faith, not good deeds.

He started reading his Bible and asking more questions.

"I thought I was doing all the right things,'' said Langer, who grew up as a Catholic altar boy. "I was taught to be a good person, and if you did good things, God will say you've been good enough and you can go to heaven. But that's not what the Bible says.''

Within three months, Langer became a born-again Christian.

He often wonders where he would be without that Masters and that off-the-cuff winner's comment in Butler cabin. It was a life-defining and life-changing moment. And as skilled as he is, he has become known as much for how he lives than tournaments he has won. "My faith has helped me not only in difficult times, but in good times -- in all times," he said.

Langer made it back to the Butler Cabin in 1993 with a four-shot victory at the Masters, the widest margin of victory in 10 years at Augusta National. This time, he was ready for the live interview with CBS. They asked him how it felt to win the Masters for the second time, and Langer talked about faith and honor.

Yes, it was quite an honor to win what he considers the greatest golf tournament in the world.

Langer couldn't help but mention that he won on Easter Sunday, and how important that day is to Christians.

He now reflects on his two visits to the cabin and draws a conclusion that makes him smile.

"I sometimes joke," he said, "that I'm the only one to mention 'Jesus Christ' in Butler Cabin twice."


Now that is an honor!

God bless Bernhard Langer!

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