Trade protectionism has a new problem: Bernhard Langer. He is the West German athlete who, with the efficiency of Mercedes-Benz, won the recent Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga., and the Sea Pines Classic in South Carolina last Sunday. The West German, who is the son of a bricklayer and began caddying at age 9, is about to export his winnings: a new green Masters jacket and 198,000 green dollars.
Langer is known on the golf tour as a naturally modest fellow who cares more for the purity of the game than its commercialism. He set out to be a golf champion, not a golf bum. If the Masters tournament celebrates the coming spring and summer sports, then Langer's victory offers an unexpected freshness. He is the latest testimony to golf's populist -- not elitist -- leanings.
Four of the game's current sparkling players learned the sport in the caddy yard or the public course: Langer, Lee Trevino (the current PGA champion), Severiano Ballesteros (twice a Masters champion) and Calvin Peete (the current Tournament Players Champion). They did not grow up among the over-entitled whose rich-kid tastes are sharpened by signing the old man's name on the country-club tab. Their first swings were with unmatched golf clubs. Their first pars were on courses they played on caddy's day or crashed at sundown when the members weren't looking.
Calvin Peete, who has won more tournaments than anyone else on the tour in the past three years, hit his first shot at 23. Until then, he had worked as an itinerant salesman among migrant workers. Black and one of 18 children, he has a deformed arm as the result of a fall from a tree when he was a boy. In March he won the TPC against the year's toughest field over one of the tour's full-torture courses.
Trevino, a Mexican American, and Ballesteros, a Spaniard, are other unlikelies. Their style of play shimmers with dash. They emote struggle, as though they refuse to forget their escape from the caddy yard. They play a different -- charging -- kind of game from that of the methodical and all-too- perfect Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson.
As the foursome of Langer, Trevino, Ballesteros and Peete keeps on breaking par, they are helping break the myth that golf is a sport of the wealthy. It isn't. Of the nation's 12,278 golf courses, 7,447 are public and 4,831 private. Only a small percentage of the latter are enclaves -- or bastions, as they used to say -- of old money.
Belonging to a private country club once meant something. You could show up Saturday or Sunday morning for a carefree 18 holes of away-from-it-all golf. Your clubs would be carried by a caddy who never talked on your backswing. A morning-coated butler would bid you adieu from the grand foyer.
Today it is routine for country clubs to have so many members that starting times are mandatory. If you don't phone in by Wednesday for a weekend time, you may be out. With exceptions, caddies have been driven to extinction by golf carts. Cheapskate members are content to carry their own clubs. The butlers aren't around because they are on strike. On the 19th hole, the question is, why join a private club when, for half the torture and a tenth of the money, the game can be played at the public course?
There among the rabble -- the future Bernhard Langers, that is -- the competition is likely to be sharper. Lee Trevino used to hustle bets on south Texas municipal courses by playing on one foot and teeing off with a pop bottle taped to a stick. He never lost his shirt, and he rarely lost hope. Such characters are still out there.
Last year, according to the United States Golf Association, 4,800 players entered the amateur public links championship, a 25 percent increase in five years. It is expected that next year the entries will exceed those of the National Open, which has always been the premier tournament.
(With the elitist myth out of the way, golf next needs to be unburdened of the charge that it is boring.)
Bernhard Langer is exciting because he is calm. At the end of 36 holes in the Masters, no one had any reason to imagine that Langer would win. Thirty- eight players were either ahead of, or tied with, him. Two final 68s and he won. He hasn't helped the trade deficit, but at least he is keeping close to the free market.