Bernhard Langer, the defending champion, is 59 and seemingly playing as well as ever. The German, known throughout his career for his attention to detail and methodical precision, will likely start the tournament a hot favorite. And, if he wins a third Boeing Classic this week, he’ll inch a little closer to Hale Irwin’s record 45 Champions Tour victories. We spent 20 minutes on the phone with him recently – just enough time to ask how he feels about coming to Seattle, and how on earth he still manages to keep shooting those low numbers.
You’ve played the Boeing Classic every year since 2009. What do you especially enjoy about coming to the event?
Oh, I love everything about it – the city, the course, the spectators, the volunteers, the scenery. I always look forward to the Boeing Classic, and just seem to always be in a good mood that week. Winning the U.S. Senior Open up here (at Sahalee CC in 2010) helps too. I just love the area.
Are you able to visit Seattle and the surrounding area much?
Most of the time I’m in Snoqualmie of course, but we’ve (Bernhard and wife Vikki) been out on Elliot Bay, and have walked a lot in the city. We’ve been to see Snoqualmie Falls, and have also spent some time hiking in the mountains. It’s a very beautiful place, and we just always enjoy our time here.
In eight appearances, you have five top-ten finishes and two wins. You obviously do well at a lot of different courses, but you seem especially well-suited to TPC Snoqualmie Ridge.
You’re right, I’ve had success at a lot of different types of courses, so I’m not sure what it is about Snoqualmie Ridge specifically. I think if you like a course and enjoy playing it, you’re going to do better than if you don’t really like it. I also enjoy putting on fast greens and Snoqualmie’s are always in superb condition. They roll very smooth, and can be pretty fast. But I think it’s a course everyone enjoys. How could you not like Snoqualmie Ridge?
What are some of your favorite holes?
There really isn’t a bad one. I think my favorite is the 18th. I love when you get up to the green, look back, and see the mountains. But there are many others. The 14th is obviously an exciting hole, and the 17th is a very pretty par 3. But so is the 9th – that’s a great hole for spectators.
On Sunday last year, you shot 30 on the back nine to get in the playoff after an indifferent opening nine. How did you turn it around?
Over the first seven or eight holes I was pushing everything right. I knew what I was doing wrong. I was hanging back with my upper body too much, and not releasing the clubhead correctly. On the 10th tee I told my caddie what I was doing and how I was going to put it right, and I did. I began covering the ball much better, and every iron shot flew like a laser toward the target. It was one of those stretch of holes where everything just felt right.
You have 32 Champions Tour wins now. Are you going to keep going until you beat Hale Irwin’s 45?
Haha, I don’t know. That really isn’t a conscious target. I might not last that long. The guys turning 50 and coming out on the Champions Tour seem so young, and they can still hit it a long way. I’m not getting any younger, or longer.
How do you do it? How do you maintain this level of performance in your late 50s?
I get asked that question a lot, so I’ve had some practice answering it. I think it’s a combination of several things. I was blessed with a talent which is a big part of it obviously, but equally important I think is the strong desire to keep going. I enjoy playing and winning, and obviously want to win as many tournaments as I can. I enjoy working hard. It’s important to have a great coach (Langer spent decades with fellow German Willie Hoffman, and also recently started working with Eric Kaplan from Miami). I’ve also had great caddies (Pete Coleman carried Langer’s bag for 22 years before calling it a day in 2003, and Terry Holt has been there through much of Langer’s senior career). Having a stable family life, and great friends is important too certainly. It’s just been a phenomenal ride.
You turn 60 on the Sunday of this year’s tournament. How special would it be to win on your 60th birthday?
What can I say, that would be totally awesome, especially as one or two special friends will be in the gallery. But really, just being in contention on the back nine will be exciting. Whatever happens though, it will be a special day.
Five to Watch
Miguel Ángel Jiménez
For years, the Spaniard went by the pseudonym ‘The Most Interesting Golfer in the World’, and with good reason. The 53-year-old from Malaga with the long, curly, ginger hair he tied up in a man-bun, just seemed to breeze through life, moving from one memorable moment to another always accompanied by a big cigar, or bigger glass of Rioja. But Jimenez was always far more than a jokey name and fantasy character. A winner of 28 professional tournaments around the world, including 21 on the European Tour (tied 10th), he rose as high as 12th in the World in 2004, and represented Spain 24 times in the Dunhill and World Cups. He appeared on four Ryder Cup teams, and recorded nine top-ten finishes in the majors. Since turning 50 at the beginning of 2014, Jimenez has played in 33 Champions Tour events and won four times.
José María Olazábal
Just a couple of years younger than his compatriot Miguel Ángel Jiménez, Olazábal, also known as Ollie and Chemma, is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, having been inducted in 2009. A winner of 23 titles on the European Tour (8th), he also had six wins on the PGA Tour including the 1994 and 1999 Masters. He rose to number two in the world in April 1994, and represented Spain 11 times. He was on seven Ryder Cup teams as a player, and captained the winning European side at Medinah in 2012. Olazábal turned 50 in February 2016, but didn’t make his debut on the Champions Tour until the start of this year since when he has played eight tournaments with one top-ten finish.
The effervescent Swede, born just outside Stockholm, made a name for himself in his early years on the European Tour by playing with the bill of his cap turned up. But, like Jimenez, he was more than just a gimmicky look – rather, a serious talent who recorded four victories in Europe, before moving to Florida in the mid-1990s. He earned five PGA Tour wins, and rose as high as seventh in the world in May 2000. Parnevik finished in the top-ten at the majors seven times, and twice finished runner-up at the Open Championship. He represented Europe in the Ryder Cup three times, and won the 2016 Insperity Invitational for his first Champions Tour win.
The 56-year-old Kentucky native recently won his second US Senior Open and fourth senior major when he shot 65, 64, 67, 68 at Salem CC in Peabody, MS. Perry won 14 times on the PGA Tour, and has nine victories on the Champions Tour since turning 50 in August 2010. He finished in the top-ten six times at the majors, losing in playoffs at both the 1996 PGA Championship, and 2009 Masters. A member of four Presidents Cup teams, Perry has also represented the U.S. twice in the Ryder Cup, the last time in 2008 at Valhalla GC, in Louisville, KY. where he beat Henrik Stenson 3&2 in the Sunday singles.
The runner-up to Perry at Salem CC eight weeks ago was Washington’s own Kirk Triplett who, at age 55, is enjoying a mini-revival this year having finished in the top-ten five times on the Champions Tour and earning close to $1m. Born in Moses Lake in 1962, Triplett earned three PGA Tour victories, has five on the Champions Tour, and played in the 2000 Presidents Cup.
We asked three area reporters – Scott Hanson of the Seattle Times, Todd Milles of the News Tribune, and the Associated Press’s Tim Booth – a few questions about their years covering the tournament.
What been your favorite moment from covering the Boeing Classic?
Hanson: My favorite moments seem to always occur when I am just walking from hole to hole, without any particular agenda. I was lucky enough to be near the first green when Gil Morgan hit an approach shot wide toward the gallery. It bounced into the hoodie of a guy wearing a sweatshirt. Morgan, when he got to the ball, told the guy to be very still, acting as if he was going to play the ball where it lied. Another favorite moment was when Nick Price came out of the ropes after hitting a tee shot to use the restroom. When he emerged, rather than getting right back inside the ropes, he walked with the gallery, asking a guy how he was doing, and was he enjoying the tournament. When Price finally went back on the course, the fan’s friend said, do you realize that was a major champion you were talking with? It’s moments like that which I remember more than putts that win the tournament.
Milles: Definitely covering the big playoff (seven players) that Denis Watson won in 2007 – the largest playoff in Champions Tour history.
Booth: My favorite moment from the tournament without question was the seven-man playoff to decide the 2007 tournament. It was such a unique experience to watch that many players going out to play the 18th hole and decide the champion. I feel lucky to have been there that day and document what happened.
Any memorable interviews or player exchanges?
Hanson: I’ll never forget Hale Irwin talking about his hole-in-one on No. 9 in the 2011 tournament. He said he would let the ball answer how it happened. “Ball, what happened? Well, you hit a 6-iron and you really had to hit it well because it was at the outer limits and I flew over the bunker but just a little short of the green — about a foot — because that’s where it’s a little softer. I didn’t know that at the time. I bounced up on the green and I rolled right into the hole.
And my interview highlights have been speaking to Nick Price and Ben Crenshaw, two great champions, and two men who treat both reporters and fans so warmly and with great respect.
Milles: After Jay Don Blake won the 2012 tournament, Craig Smith of the Times asked him about the 85 he shot in a PGA Tour event (2004 Booz Allen Classic) in memory of his mother, who had died earlier in the day. Blake gave such a detailed and heartbroken account of that day, it stopped us all in our tracks.
Booth: I think the great thing about the Champions Tour is that all the players are very approachable and appreciative of the coverage they receive. Some of the intensity that may have accompanied them during their PGA Tour careers has dissipated – they still want to win – but they are all very easy to talk to and tell stories about.
How has the Boeing Classic evolved over the years?
Hanson: The tournament went to another level when Seattle native Fred Couples turned 50 and began playing in it. It would be great to see him win one of these. I believe while the PGA Tour Champions players are more accessible and more likely to sign autographs that PGA Tour players, I think the differences have become less pronounced.
Milles: I would actually use the word ‘sustained’ because many big names continue to come to this event, even when it was stuck between Champions Tour majors.
Booth: It has definitely solidified its place as part of the summer culture in the Seattle area. Consider that in 2010 the U.S. Senior Open at Sahalee took place just a few weeks before the Boeing Classic and yet the crowds were just as strong. Same in 2015 when the U.S. Open was at Chambers and 2016 when the Women’s PGA was at Sahalee. The Boeing Classic has done an excellent job of finding its niche in the Seattle sports marketplace and maximizing the opportunity.
How big a deal is the Boeing Classic for the Seattle sports fan, and the Seattle sports scene?
Hanson: I think it’s a big deal to a lot of area golf fans. I am not sure it’s captured the attention of people who mainly focus on football, baseball, basketball and watch golf when the majors come around. I think the key is getting people out just once, because it really is a great experience, walking a course as beautiful as TPC Snoqualmie Ridge and seeing golf that is still at a very high level.
Milles: On a scale from 1-10, I would say a 6. There is no PGA or LPGA Tour stop in WA. This is it. My only complaint is that it comes at a time of year (August) when it competes with lots of other things, such as Seahawks and Huskies.
Booth: This ties in with my previous answer. It will never be as big as the professional sporting events here (Seahawks, Mariners), but it is the region’s connection to professional golf and to me it is a big event. It would be interesting knowing how much attention the Boeing Classic would receive if the PGA Tour could ever get itself into the Seattle marketplace.
Jeff and Jennifer Richards have volunteered at the Boeing Classic every year since the very first tournament in 2005.
What made you want to volunteer back at the start?
Jeff: As a golf enthusiast, I had great interest in getting involved in a professional tournament in the Seattle area and one that also benefited an organization locally.
Jennifer: I actually first volunteered in 2006 as I was home with a newborn in 2005, Jeff had a great experience in 2005 and we decided to volunteer together. It was a very hot weekend and we were marshals on the 6th hole. I was just learning about the game of golf and appreciated the opportunity to not only watch some of the greatest golfers but also knowing that Virginia Mason was the beneficiary with the patients and community really being the ones that benefit.
What roles have you had at the tournament?
Jeff: I was a course marshal the first five years and a walking scorer since. I look forward to walking again this year.
Jennifer: I was a course marshal for two years then I tried a different volunteer role as Skybox Hospitality which was basically a marshal in a skybox on 18. I loved being right on top of the action on hole 18. For the past 4-5 years I have been a co-chair of the Skybox Hospitality with Andrea Ross as the other co-chair. We have very much enjoyed all the volunteers that we have worked with, many of whom have been multi-year volunteers as well.
What has been your favorite moment from the last 12 years?
Jeff: The seven-person playoff in 2007.
Jennifer: Every year I look forward to the Boeing flyover, but my favorite moments are the sudden death playoffs with the seven-person playoff being the most memorable. There was so much excitement and anticipation, everyone was on pins and needles.
Have you met many of the players, and do you have a favorite?
Jeff: As a walking scorer, I meet many players every year as I’m walking behind the ropes with the group. They’ve all been friendly and appreciative of our volunteering. A few of my favorites are Jay Haas, Olin Browne, and Tim Simpson.
Jennifer: I have met a few players over the years, with the most memorable being Jean Van de Velde last year at the Volunteer Appreciation Dinner where he graciously answered questions (even the tough ones!) and thanked the volunteers.
How long will you keep going do you think?
Jeff: As long as the tournament is around. It’s always a great weekend full of great golf by some of the greats.
Jennifer: We look forward to volunteering at the tournament every year, it’s one of the highlights of the summer for us. I’m sure we will continue to volunteer for many years to come.
How important do you think the Boeing Classic is to Seattle and its sports fans?
Jeff: I think the golf sports fans in the Pacific Northwest continue to enjoy having the Classic in such a beautiful setting each year.
Jennifer: More and more sports fans come enjoy the Boeing Classic every year. It’s important to many to have such a high-caliber tournament with top-notch golfers in our own backyard. It’s great to see so many children and teens enjoying the tournament as well.