When I finished with my apprenticeship and got my diploma as a head professional I was eighteen and decided to try my luck on the tour for a couple of years. Until then no German had ever had any kind of success on the tour and I really didn’t know what to expect and what kind of competition I would be facing. I bought a little Ford and drove two thousand miles to Spain and Portugal for the first stop of the 1976 European tour would be. I immediately developed a medical condition. It was an uncontrollable and involuntarily movement of the muscles. It has destroyed many professional careers such as golfers and surgeons.
I believe there were several reasons for it. I was used to very slow greens in Germany and in the greens in Spain and Portugal were lightning fast and I wanted to prove to everybody out there and at home and mostly to myself that I was good enough and I put too much pressure on myself. I did not have much money and I wanted to succeed quickly. I was lodging in some terrible places. The cheapest places I could find and I didn’t want to spend much money on food. I could not afford a caddy and certainly could not afford to fly from country to country. I drove many long hours on the road. The first two to three years were pretty rough and the problem with my putting did not help. The only thing that kept me going was the knowledge that I was a very good ball striker and if I could only improve my putting I would be one of the best.
During my national service with the Air Force I injured my back during a training exercise. I spent weeks in the hospital and for several days I could not even turn over in bed because of the pain. At that point I thought my golf career was over before it had even started. Four weeks and many aspirins later I left the hospital not feeling too bad. I finished my fifteen months in the service and went back on the tour. In 1978 I still had putting problems and on one occasion in a match play tournament I four putted from three feet. I was double hitting it and my opponents would not even give me a one foot putt because they could see the chance that I would miss it was greater than I could make it. These were extremely difficult and trying times. There were many times when I asked the Lord, Why me? What have I done to deserve this? There were also many days when I thought about quitting and going back to teaching golf. The break through came in 1979 when I won the World Championship under 25 years of age by a record seventeen strokes, which is a record still listed in the Guiness Book of World Records. I made every putt I looked at and it was as if a heavy load fell off my shoulders.
Two years later in 1981 I won the Money List in Europe and no one would have thought a German could do that. Oh, yes we had good soccer players, great tennis stars, good skiers, but golf, no way! In 1982 I played a tournament in England and on the seventeenth I hit a nine iron for my second shot and pulled it to the left and it a big oak tree near the green. I heard the ball hit two or three times but did not see it come down. Seconds later hundreds of spectators started laughing and sure enough the ball was lodged up in the tree in a little indentation on a huge branch about fifteen feet above the ground. After debating whether I should take the penalty shot or climb up in the tree and hit it, I decided to climb up the oak tree. Minutes later I hit the ball from up in the tree onto the green and the crowd went absolutely crazy. The TV cameras had everything on tape and hours later the picture of me hitting the ball out of the tree went around the world. Two days later I flew to Akron Ohio to play the World Series golf tournament which was my ever event in the US. I was co leader after three rounds and I heard the people in the crowd saying there’s the guy who was up in the tree.
1984 was a great year for me. The most important event of the year occurred in January. In 1983 I had met and began dating a girl from Louisiana by the name of Vicki,. On January the 20th she became my wife. That was the beginning of many great things. By the end of that year I had the money list again in Europe and I had finished second in the British Open at Saint Andrews. I also played eight events on the US tour and won enough money to receive my US tour card for the next year. In 1985, my first year as a member on the US tour, I won the biggest event of my career so far. The US Masters in Augusta Georgia, one of the four grand slam events. I also won the Heritage Classic in Hiltonhead, the Australian Masters, and several others.
That year I won seven tournaments in five continents. I was ranked number one in the world, I had a beautiful, young wife, and had achieved everything that I could have ever dreamed of. The problem was that there was still something missing. As I analyzed it, it was easy with a lifestyle like mine to get wrapped up in things like money, cars, houses and positions in the world ranking, the US tour, the European tour and so on. It became easy to be greedy, jealous, full of myself and thinking I could do it all by myself and get a false sense of security. My priorities were golf, golf, golf, and more golf, then myself, time with my wife, and every now and then the Lord. If my golf game was not good my whole life was miserable. I always thought that being somewhat of a good person and keeping the commandments would hopefully get me into heaven. I was trying not to steal, cheat, or hurt anyone on purpose.
I got more and more successful I thought I could do it all myself. I didn’t need God so much when everything was going great. I still prayed every now and then and I still went to church on Sunday. Then in 1985 the week after I’d won the US Masters I was invited by a friend of mine, Bobby Clampett, to come to the tours’ Bible study on Wednesday evening. I told my wife that I would like to go and she also came. There we met Larry Moody and a whole bunch of other professional golfers and their wives. That evening was the first time in my life that I heard that I needed to be reborn to be able to have eternal life. That didn’t make any sense to me. At the end of the study I asked Larry what he meant when he said I had to be reborn. Surely at the age of 28 I could not born again. He opened the Bible and showed me John 3:3 which reads, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again he can not see the kingdom of God.” In John 3:5 it reads, “truly, truly, I say to you unless one is born of the water and the spirit he can not enter into the kingdom of God.”
Now I thought I was a pretty good Christian but I had never heard this before. Larry went on to explain what it meant in practical terms. He told me that every one of us is separated from the perfect and holy God because of our imperfection and sinfulness. He went on to say that many religious people think they can overcome this problem by doing lots of good deeds for God but no one is so good that they can save themselves and no one is so bad that God can’t save them. The reason that Jesus Christ came to earth was to pay the penalty for our sins so we would not have to be separated from God forever.
Larry went on to say once a person accepts Christ’s free gift of salvation the Holy Spirit comes to live permanently within them and guides their thoughts and actions. Furthermore, Jesus promised to not only give us eternal life but also an abundant life. The promise of an abundant life does not mean that we will not face pain and problems but it does mean that God will give us the strength to face any circumstance. After understanding that God loved me so much, that He sent His only Son to die for my sins, and that I could never be good enough to get to heaven through my works but only according to His mercy and free gift, it was natural to me to let Him in my life and He let the Holy Spirit reign within me. My first birth brought me into the Langer family but the second birth brought me into God’s family.
My wife Vicki, tells it the same way and she also accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior. Since then I have seen tremendous changes in her life, my life, our relationship as husband and wife, and the way we treat our friends and every one else in this world. Many of our prayers have been answered. My priorities have changed a lot since that day in 1985. Now they are number one, God, number two, my family, and number three, my job. At times it is hard to keep this order and I fall back into my old habits but I believe and know when you have your priorities right everything is much easier in life. Every morning when I get up I give my whole day over to the Lord. I give over all of myself and actions and ask Him to lead me through the day. I ask Him to help me to treat other people in a loving and honorable way and to help me with the daily frustrations of life. I’m never alone. He’s always by my side and things have been much smoother and easier.