Bernhard and Jason Langer return to the 2015 PNC Father/Son Challenge as the defending champions, but they know this tournament is about more than winning.
“The whole tournament is all about family and spending time with your family and the families of other players,” said Bernhard. “For these youngsters it is an amazing few days where they can rub shoulders with some of the legends of the game, deepen some friendships we have and create new memories.”
The memories made at the 2014 PNC Father/Son Challenge were a bit unexpected, however. Bernhard was signed up to play with his daughter Christina, a collegiate golfer at Florida Atlantic University. She was forced to withdraw due to a back injury. That’s when Bernhard’s 14-year old son, Jason, said he was ready to play.
Bernhard warned Jason that playing golf in front of spectators and for live television was a different experience, but Jason assured him it was his time. While Christina agreed it was impossible for her to play, she did remind Jason that she would be playing the next year once she was healthy again. Jason tried to negotiate that if the father-son team had a Top-5 or Top-3 finish in 2014, he could play again in 2015, but Christina didn’t agree. Only if Bernhard and Jason were to win, she agreed, Jason would play to defend.
With Bernhard being a “realist” as he says, he wasn’t thinking a win was likely last year. Jason was in the middle of his high school soccer season and was coming off a disappointing appearance at the Florida 1A state golf championships the month prior, so his golf game was little rusty. Jason used the two pro-am days and extra free time in Orlando to get his swing back in shape.
“It felt really good to hit a good first drive on the first tee on Saturday and just hitting consistently decent shots gave me a level of confidence,” said Jason. “It’s always nice having a good backup behind you. It always makes it more comfortable.”
“One of the standout shots for me would certainly be Jason’s first tee shot,” said Bernhard. “He had to be a little nervous the way he played before and this was his first big tournament. He hit first and I watched him and he just ripped a beautiful drive down the middle. I’m thinking ‘Wow, that was pretty awesome to do that under the circumstances.’”
The awesome continued throughout the weekend.
With red-hot putting, including a nearly 90-foot eagle on #3 by Bernhard, the Langers found themselves 8-under through seven holes on Sunday. They were able to hold off Davis and Dru Love and give Bernhard his third Father/Son title.
“With the Langers’ entertaining win in 2014, this remains an event that celebrates family as much as it does championship golf,” said Rob Reilly, chief financial officer for The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. “This tournament is a great time to build and strengthen relationships that we enjoy with Arnold Palmer, our customers, the community and everyone involved in this event.”
Bernhard won in 2005 and 2006 with Jason’s older brother, Stefan. Winning at age 15, Stefan had previously held the record as the youngest child to win the title. In 2014, Jason took over that title, however, going back-to-back to match his big brother’s other feat isn’t top of mind for Jason this year.
“I try not to expect anything,” said Jason. “We will just try and play as slow as we can. If we can continue to putt like we did last year -- that always helps. Anything is possible. I’m just looking forward to a good time.”
It hasn’t been quite the same road to the PNC Father/Son as it was in 2014. The start of the 2015 season wasn’t what Bernhard is used to. Early in the year, Christina, 22, had two back surgeries and Jason broke his pelvic bone playing soccer. Bernhard missed a few Champions Tour tournaments to stay home with his family. He also opted to play in the Porsche European Open on the European Tour at the Beckenbauer Golf Course that he designed on his home soil in Germany.
With the unusual start, Bernhard spent much of 2015 chasing the yellow bib instead of being the frontrunner. Consistency paid off. He placed in the Top-3 in nine events and won two of his final three events, earning him the Charles Schwab Cup, his second in a row and record third overall, and the money title for the seventh year out of the last eight.
“Almost every team in the field has a chance to win,” said Bernhard. “They are all great champions and some of their sons are very, very good players. We certainly aren’t the favorites. We are probably the underdogs.”
Thankfully Jason’s injury didn’t require surgery and after four months of rest, he is healthy once again and looking forward to returning to Orlando. The uniqueness of the weekend is not lost on Jason.
“Even to be on the range next to Jack [Nicklaus] and Vijay [Singh] and Davis Love is hard to comprehend at the time, but it is such a cool experience,” he said. “It’s something that very few people can have and I really enjoyed it.”
The Langers expect their gallery to be full of family and friends once again this year. Bernhard’s daughter, Christina, will also be on the course at the PNC Father/Son this year, but in a different role than she might have expected – as Jason’s caddie.
The golfers aren’t the only ones who can spend time with their families at the tournament, thanks to PNC’s support. Children age 15 years and younger receive complimentary admission with an accompanying adult. In addition, active military, reservists, military retirees and their families are invited to attend The United Association of Plumbers & Pipefitters Pavilion on the 18th hole to enjoy complementary snacks and beverages.
Area children also will benefit from golf clinics sponsored by PNC along with the company’s support of the Blessings in a Backpack program, which provides food for needy children to take home each week of the school year. PNC also has contributed $600,000 since 2012 to the “Healthy Families Orange” program, which is administered through the Howard Phillips Center for Children & Families.