"Lord, I don't ask that I should win, but please, please don't let me finish behind Akabusi."
Easter TriumphOn Easter Sunday 1993, Bernhard Langer celebrated his US Masters win with these words; "It's a great honour to win the greatest tournament in the world, and especially on Easter Sunday, the day my Lord was resurrected."
The US Masters is unique among golf's four major tournaments. To start with, it is always the first major of the year. While the other three majors rotate around great golf courses, the Masters is always played at the Augusta National Club, in Augusta, Georgia. The legendary Bobby Jones is generally regarded as the inspiration behind the Masters. He was involved in the development of the Augusta National course and in the organization of the Augusta Invitational tournament in 1934. By the following year the tournament had become known as the Masters.
The tournament regularly finishes on Easter Sunday as it did in 1993 and does this year. When Bernhard Langer was taken into the Butler cabin where the presentation to the winner and live TV interview traditionally takes place, it was natural for Bernhard as a Christian to be mindful of a significant day in the Christian calendar. But there was more to it than that.
1993 was Langer's second Masters victory, having won it in 1985. On that occasion too he went for the TV interview in the Butler Cabin. In 1985 when CBS sportscaster Jim Nantz asked, 'Did you look at the leader-board? Did you know what was going on in the tournament?' Bernhard's spontaneous response was one that he was to regret.
He replied, 'I was trying not to look but I saw it for the first time at the ninth and I thought, "Jesus Christ, I am playing well and I am four shots behind!"' He just said 'Jesus Christ' without thinking as an expression of surprise that everyone used. Don't forget too that English isn't his first language and that he did not at that stage have a personal Christian faith. Afterwards Langer was amazed at the reaction and at the number of letters he received from people saying that they had been offended by him by using the name of God in this way.
In the 1993 interview the first question he was asked was how the first Masters win compared with the second. He said later "I answered, 'It's a great honour to win the greatest tournament in the world, and especially on Easter Sunday, the day my Lord was resurrected.' In saying those words, which went round the world on live television, I hope I was able to make up for my shortcomings in 1985 by saying something more positive".
In his autobiography, he explained further the significance of winning on Easter Sunday. "Some people may not understand that, but it was very meaningful for me as a believer to have won on the day that we celebrate that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. You see, I strongly believe that the resurrection of Jesus actually happened. There were about 500 eye-witnesses who saw him alive again. I believe that it takes more faith not to believe in Jesus Christ than to believe in him".
This article appeared in The Times Online, 6 April, 2009