The day after he won the Masters last week, Bernhard Langer and his American wife Vikki stopped at a fast-food restaurant a few hundred yards from the Augusta National Golf Club.

The Langers stood in line, ordered the chain's 2,157,345,768th burger, took a seat, ate and eventually left.

Without anyone recognizing him.

No one that is, except a PGA Tour official, Rik Carlson, who watched in amazement as nothing happened. "I knew Langer wasn't well known in America. But this was in Augusta. The next day."

Too bad Langer snatched his green coat almost before anyone knew he was in town. Seldom has a player so appealing won such a large prize so quietly.

Langer never made the leader board until Saturday evening, was obscured by greater names until the back nine Sunday and didn't reach the top alone until he was playing the 71st hole.

Even then Curtis Strange squandered the lead as much as Langer took it. All that Strange strategy in the Amen Corner, when the leader hit his cleek in the creek at the 13th, overshadowed Langer's 68-68 for the last 36 holes.

Now, by underlining his Masters triumph with a victory Sunday at the Heritage Classic, Langer has given us a second chance to get to know him.

That's only fair. Langer is already the golfer without honor in his own land. West Germany, which has only one public golf course, barely knows Langer exists. In voting for his nation's top sportsman in 1984, he was not nominated, despite being Europe's No. 1 golfer.

Langer's story is one Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and other rough-edged men of fierce ambition who learned the game as caddies in the 1920s and '30s would appreciate.

They would know what it feels like to carry a bag at age 8, to carry double before your teens and to leave school and turn pro at 14. That's how Langer, the son of a bricklayer in Anhausen, West Germany, did it.

They would know how tough a four-foot putt can feel when the grocery money rides on it, when your chances of ever being a somebody roll with it. They know where the yips are born.

Yes, it's fitting we find Langer sitting in Everyman's Burger Joint. When he first made an international splash, finishing second in the British Open in 1981, he did it in cracked old golf shoes that most U.S. tour pros would be embarrassed to let their caddies wear.

Other players sometimes snicker at the way Langer and his equipment are still covered with endorsement stickers like some NASCAR driver who changes his hat six times in the winner's circle so every sponsor logo can be photographed.

So what if Langer endorses everything down to Japanese underwear. He's made it big and fast the last few years in Europe -- leader in the Order of Merit in '81 and '84. But when the marks come as hard as they did for Langer, you grab them while you can. In '84, he made nearly a million dollars from all sources.

Funny, the bigger his bank account, the smoother his putting stroke.

The reason Langer is blossoming now, at 27, is simple. He finally has the cushion of financial security -- the margin of error to allow failure without disaster -- that almost every NCAA hotshot on tour enjoys from his first day.

Back when Langer was scuffling, he had one of the worst cases of early-age yips on record. Once, in 1976, he rolled a 35-foot downhill putt off the other side of the green. Soon, he was double-hitting putts like an old man.

Langer's affliction was so obvious, so comic in its pathetic way, that an English neurologist, Dr. Wolfgang Schady, cited Langer in a paper on Neurological Syndromes in Sportsmen. He speculated on a "dysfunction of the basal ganglia . . . . "

Golfers might diagnose the problem as an emptiness in the hip pocket. The more you want to be great, the more talent you know you have and the more fragile the economic shoestring by which your whole future hangs, the more pressure gets focused in your putter.

"In those years, the yips were always with me. It was a nightmare," Langer once told Dudley Doust of the Sunday Times of London.

"I carried two putters at times," recalled Langer after his Masters win, an admission that he would spot his foes a club just so he would have the option of forsaking one putter in midround. "I usually putt cross-handed inside 20 feet even now. But which way I putt depends on many factors, including how I happen to feel at the moment."

In other words, to this day, Langer tries to keep his own synapses confused by changing styles.

"The best part of my game the last few weeks has been my short putting. I haven't missed anything inside five feet. It's a great feeling," said Langer on Sunday after three-putting once at the Masters and not at all at the Heritage. "I've only done it (avoid three putts) twice in my life and to do it over here (in the U.S.) . . . . "

Langer never played in America until last year and, with Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman, he's proved that the best of the world tour can also play with the best in the United States in the '80s. In eight starts in '84, Langer won $82,465 and, so far in '85, he's won $256,667 in 12 tournaments.

That's $339,132 in 20 starts. Maybe the Masters and Heritage aren't that much different than the Irish, French, German, Spanish and Dutch opens, all of which Langer won last year.

"I don't feel a great deal of pressure," said Langer at the Heritage, "because I've just won my biggest championship. But, on the other hand, there's pressure to prove I'm worthy of winning a major championship."

So far, the jury remains out on Langer, as it does on Ballesteros and Norman. Like many non-American players, Langer tends to be streaky. Just as Norman seemed unbeatable in the summer of '84, Langer has the magic now. He's riding the hot hand to the Houston Open, where he's now a last-minute entrant.

Langer is no obsessive student, no mechanic of the swing like Tom Watson or Jack Nicklaus. Rather, he is a gifted, gritty fellow who, when he's hot and confident, can hook an eight-iron shot out of a jungle of trees, then chip in for a birdie, as he did at the 12th hole Sunday.

"I will win this tournament," Langer says he thought after that escape. In fact, Langer is such a dangerous character at the moment that he says, "I feel like I'm going to sink every chip shot."

It is extremely unlikely that Langer will dominate the U.S. tour any more than Ballesteros and Norman have, or than Gary Player did in his heyday. Like those last remaining self-taught up-from-under Americans -- Lee Trevino and Calvin Peete -- they don't have textbook swings learned as children on country club tees.

Instead, these slashing, gambling golf immigrants will continue to enliven their sport with a hungry-heart style that would make Bruce Springsteen proud. Not to mention Sam and Ben and Byron and Jimmy and . . . .