He celebrates his 61st birthday next week, but golf great Bernhard Langer shows no signs of slowing down.
The German turned pro when he was 15 and has since amassed over 100 career wins, including becoming one of only five players to win tournaments on six continents.
Now Langer’s longevity is being celebrated with the Payne Stewart Award, which recognizes golfers who have exhibited “steadfast values of character, charity and sportsmanship” throughout their careers.
Presented by the PGA Tour each year, the award is named after the former player and three-time major champion who tragically died in an airplane accident in 1999. Previous winners include Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, and Nick Faldo.
“Payne and I were born around the same time. We became very close friends and our families knew each other,” Langer told CNN’s Paula Newton from the New York Stock Exchange after he’d rung the NYSE bell at the start of Monday’s trading.
“We were competing in the same tournaments around the world — such as the Ryder Cup and the Masters. I came over to play on the PGA Tour and he came over to play in the European Tour.
“It was a tragic day when his plane went down.”
‘You can do it as long as you can walk’
Today, Langer plays largely on the PGA’s Champions Tour — formerly the Senior PGA Tour — where he’s recorded 37 victories and led the money list in nine of the past 10 seasons.
He still competes at major championships and this year teed off at both the Open and the Masters — a tournament he won in 1985 and 1993 and hasn’t missed since 2011.
“I like to be a good example for the elderly generation,” says Langer, who finished 24th at the Open in July at Carnoustie.
“You can’t play football, soccer and basketball in your 50s and 60s, but in golf you can still get better and that should give encouragement to all amateurs.
“You can do it as long as you can walk.”
The low-impact nature of golf means the sport can be a lifelong commitment, while research has shown that regular golfers live an average of five years longer than non-golfers.
After retirement, pros rarely fade away from the game completely. The likes of Nicklaus, 78, and Player, 82, are still regular faces on greens around the world. The pair opened this year’s Masters with ceremonial tee shots.
And while a generation of young Americans are regularly seen amongst golf’s silverware, the sport’s young guns are often topped by players close to double their age.
In recent years, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson have won their first major titles in their 40s, while Tiger Woods is enjoying a career resurgence at the age of 42 having overcome a series of injury setbacks — something Langer thinks the game is all the better for.
“Tiger is such a big part of the game of golf. He was dominant for so many years — the no. 1 player,” said the German.
“He went through this personal tragedy and health issues as we all know and many people questioned he’d ever come back.
“Whenever Tiger tees up the tournament has more followers. There’s a hype and an excitement. It’s great he’s back.”