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Cleveland: On the 2016 Masters

The 2016 Masters likely will be remembered as the one that washed away from 22-year-old Jordan Spieth when two of his shots landed in a watery grave known as Rae’s Creek.

But we should not forget that 29-year-old Englishman Danny Willett won with a masterful round of 67 on Sunday. And we should not forget the performance of 58-year-old German Bernhard Langer, who entered the final round just one shot out of the lead at least a decade after most normal golfers no longer have the muscle, flexibility and nerve to compete at golf’s highest level.

Langer faded to a 79 on Sunday and finished in a tie for 24th at 6 over par for the tournament, but that doesn’t diminish his achievement. Nearly nine years into AARP, Langer beat two-time Masters champ Bubba Watson by three shots. He beat 2013 Masters champ Adam Scott by five shots. He went head-to-head in the same pairing with Jason Day, the world’s No. 1 ranked golfer, in Saturday’s third round. Day shot 71. Langer shot 70. He turned back the clock is what Bernhard Langer did.

Just a week earlier, Langer played in the PGA Tour Champions’ Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic presented by C Spire at Fallen Oak, shooting rounds of 71, 70 and 68 to finish in a tie for six place behind champion Miguel Angel Jimenez.

What you first notice about Langer on the golf course is that, physically, he does not look 58. No, he appears as trim as a college golfer. What you don’t see on the golf course is how hard Langer works in the gym before and after he plays.

The Champions Tour, as is the case with the PGA Tour, has 18-wheel fitness trailers that follow the two tours from tournament to tournament, providing a gym on wheels for the golfers. Kent Biggerstaff, who spent 33 years in Major League Baseball as a fitness trainer, is the trainer on site at most Champions events.

Biggerstaff designs his workouts to enhance strength, flexibility and balance — all keys to golf success and all factors that tend to decrease as we age.  Biggerstaff says if he can get 30 minutes a day from the senior golfers he can help them stave off Father Time.

Langer, Biggerstaff says, gives him far more than half an hour.

“Bernhard works as hard or harder than anyone,” Biggerstaff says. “You can look at Bernhard and see that he is trim and fit.  What most fans don’t realize is how strong he is. I mean, he really works at it. His golf muscles are really, really strong.”

Langer’s workout routine usually includes 45 minutes of cardio work and another 45 minutes of strength, balance and flexibility work during which he uses dumbbells, cables, balance balls and his own body weight. Langer, as most golfers, concentrates on his core muscles (abdominal, lower back and pelvic). (Just google Bernhard Langer and plank, and see what I mean.)

Biggerstaff knows that not every senior golfer has the time to put into fitness, much less golf, that Langer does. But he also knows that every 50-plus human being can benefit from some version of Langer’s fitness regimen. The old saying remains true: Use it or lose it.

The 2016 Masters also gave us two final trips around Augusta National for the great champion, Tom Watson. Watson won eight majors, including five British Opens. Most will remember him as the guy who went head-to-head with Jack Nicklaus in his prime, giving as good as he got.

I’ll always remember him as the mop-haired kid out of Stanford who showed up at the old Magnolia Classic in Hattiesburg in 1971 with a seemingly flawless golf swing and a moustache.

Here’s how I met Tom Watson: I was out at the green on the par-4 fifth hole (the hardest on the course).  I happened to be looking at the pin placement when a ball sailed from out of the left rough, bounced a couple times and then rolled into the cup.

Minutes later, Watson and his caddy walked up to the green and started looking all around for his ball. You see, the fifth at Hattiesburg is a steep uphill climb to the green and Watson couldn’t follow his shot from far downhill in the pine trees.

“You might want to check the hole,” I told Watson.

He did. And there was his ball. He flashed that grin that would later grace so many magazine covers and a bronze World Golf Hall of Fame plaque.

Tom Watson, I told myself. Need to remember that name.

Rick Cleveland is a syndicated columnist and historian at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. His email address is rcleveland@msfame.com.

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Adam Brown
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