Langer overcomes home-field advantage

SAMMAMISH — As he looked at the spectators lining the fairways on Sunday, Bernard Langer of Germany knew he wasn’t going to find many friends.

There was his 20-year-old son Stefan, his caddy, and a few fans waving German flags, but otherwise the folks who flocked to Sahalee Country Club for the final round of the United States Senior Open were there to cheer for Seattle native son and fan favorite Fred Couples.

Sunday’s crowd was 31,444, “and I’d say 99.9 percent were on Freddy’s side,” Langer said with a wry smile shortly after his three-shot victory.

Langer and Couples began the round tied at 5-under-par, and when Couples birdied the first hole to move in front a jolt of excitement went through the gallery. But in vanished on the next hole when Langer birdied and Couples suffered a grievous triple-bogey, and from there it was Langer’s tournament to lose.

And a whole bunch of people were hoping he would.

“It felt like a Ryder Cup atmosphere,” Langer said, referring to the spirited bi-annual United States vs. Europe golf clash. “It was definitely (the fans) against me and for Freddy. You could feel that, and that’s not the case in a normal golf tournament.

“I’ve had it before,” he said. “When you play in the same group with Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer or any of the big names in America … I’ve played 10 Ryder Cups and five on American soil, so I knew what was coming. But that doesn’t make it any easier.”

At a typical tournament, Langer said, crowds generally spread their applause equally among all players.

“And it was a bit like that today,” he said. “But if you were to go out there and interview (Sunday’s fans), they’d tell you that they wanted Freddy to win.

“If I play in my hometown, they’d want me to win. So it’s quite normal and I knew I was going to be up against that. But when you pull through that and you win in difficult circumstances, it just means that much more.”

Sure, the Seattle-area fans gave their love to Couples, but they still showed Langer great respect. He was cheered often — maybe not raucously, but properly — and they stood to applaud after he rolled in a short par putt on the 18th green for his victory.

Langer responded by waving his hat, and then flinging the hat joyfully in the air.

During the round “there were a couple of (negative) comments” directed at Langer, Couples said. “But as he said, that’s going to happen. Someone picked out the color of his shirt (fuchsia) and said they didn’t think that was a very good color. But other than that, no one said anything wrong.

“Seattle has great fans,” he added. “It was fun to listen to everyone. … Normally I do OK on the crowd side. I usually have more than 50 percent on my side, and today this was probably 99 percent. And it was fun. They were great. They were loud.

“It was a great week,” said Couples, who is due back in the Seattle area for the Aug 27-29 Boeing Classic at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge in Snoqualmie. “It was a lot of fun to be here, I can tell you that much.”

No one in the field seemed to disagree. From the beauty of Sahalee CC to the seven days of gorgeous weather to the tremendous support from the galleries — there were 133,672 spectators for the tournament — it was a terrific week for golf in the Pacific Northwest.

“The people of Seattle were great,” said Larry Mize, who shot a 2-under 68 on Sunday and tied for eighth. “It was good golf and the crowds were good and the weather was great.”

“The players loved (Sahalee CC),” Langer agreed. “The crowds were fantastic, too. The atmosphere out there was just like any major on the regular tour, whether it’s The Masters or the U.S. Open or any other.

“There were some cheers that reminded me of the best times at Augusta (National, site of The Masters) on the back nine. It was just really fun.”

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