Essential Golf: A passion for the Game

Battle for the Charles Schwab Cup

Bernard Langer has grown accustomed to having the handsome Charles Schwab Cup on display at his house in Boca Raton, Fla. He’s won the trophy five times, including 2018, and has taken it home in four of the last five seasons. It’s as if the award has been bequeathed to him.

Until, perhaps, this season. The World Golf Hall of Famer has some serious competition in his quest to again claim the PGA TOUR Champions’ season-ending prize. Langer, now 61, has a long line of challengers eager to deprive him of another Cup.

“Why wouldn’t they try,” Langer said. “I did the same. We’ve got a good crop of guys coming in; some of them fire it past me. It’s not going to get easier as you get older. If I can find a way to sustain my game … I can’t control the others.”

The Charles Schwab Cup is the three-tournament playoff series that concludes the PGA TOUR Champions season. The Cup carries significant cache among the competitors—along with a $1 million bonus payoff.

“It means a great deal,” said Langer, who won the Oasis Championship in Boca Raton this spring for his 39th PGA TOUR Champions title. “It’s a big carrot at the end of the season. It means you were the most consistent of the players during the season.”

McCarron’s challenge

The biggest threat to wrestle the Cup out of Langer’s Vardon grip may be Scott McCarron, who was second in 2018. McCarron won twice by the end of April—the Mitsubishi Electric Classic in Atlanta and the Insperity Classic in Houston—and surged to the top of the points list.

“I’m not done yet,” said McCarron, a 10-time winner on PGA TOUR Champions. “I want to win a lot more and I want to win the Schwab Cup. That was my goal at the start of this year, which has been the goal the start of the last few years. We’re trying to get that done.”

McCarron said some of inspiration and motivation comes from Langer, the man he’s trying to displace.

“I’ve learned so much from playing with Bernhard Langer,” McCarron said. “It’s been great becoming friends with him, watch how he kind of takes apart a golf course, how much he’s dedicated to practicing. He’s definitely pushing me.”

There are others who have their sites set on derailing Langer, too.

Consistent Kirk Triplett, easy to identify by the ever-present bucket hat on his 6-foot-3 frame, is back in contention for the Cup. In 2019, he won the Hoag Classic in Newport Beach, Calif.—his seventh Championship victory—in a playoff and has tied for second place in three events.

Strong challengers

Vijay Singh, a winner of the Masters and two PGA Championships, was fourth in the Schwab Cup standings in 2018. Although Singh doesn’t have a win in 2019, he has finished inside the top 15 in four of his first five events.

Kevin Sutherland is the man who denied Langer the title in 2017. The cool Californian this spring won his second PGA TOUR Seniors title, the Rapiscan Systems Classic in Biloxi, Miss., in a seven-hole playoff that wasn’t finished until Monday morning.

Tom Lehman won for the 12th since joining PGA TOUR Champions when he prevailed at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Hawaii. Lehman, the former PGA champion and Ryder Cup captain, won the Charles Schwab Cup in 2011 and 2012.

Among the rookies, two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen began the year with high expectations. His back was feeling fine—it has been five years since his surgery—and Goosen had decided to play fulltime on PGA TOUR Champions. But the soft-spoken South African broke his ring finger in a freak accident and the injury has created issues with his grip and contributed to his slow start.

This will be the second season the Cup has been played under the new the points system. Players receive one point for each dollar earned during the regular season, with the points doubled for the three playoff events. The points are not re-set for the playoffs, thus rewarding consistent play during the regular season and heightening the importance of the playoff events.

“The new system is great,” Langer said. “I do play attention to the standings. I think most players do. You want to be in that top 3-4-5 going into the playoffs where you can make a move. Ideally you’d like to have a big lead so you can have an advantage.”

This article first appeared in the PGA TOUR June-November 2019 issue, which can be read here.

See also: Destined to Be Great: Interview with Bernhard Langer