AUGUSTA, Ga. — A popular question for just about any player in a green jacket from Augusta National is how winning the Masters changed his life.

No one can answer it quite like Bernhard Langer.

It was 20 years ago this week that the 27-year-old German, dressed all in red with wavy blond hair down to his shoulders, held off Seve Ballesteros and surged past a stumbling Curtis Strange to win his first major championship.

Imagine the excitement he felt when he was presented the green jacket in the Butler Cabin. Then came the live interview with CBS Sports and an innocuous question about whether he looked at the leaderboard.

The response, best Langer can recall, went something like this:

"I looked up for the first time after nine holes, and I thought I was playing well, but Jesus Christ! Curtis Strange was four shots ahead."

Only later did Langer realize what he had said and the number of people he had offended.

"I was not a Christian at the time," he said. "It was a powerful expression, and a lot of people used it. A few weeks later I had a number of fan mail — well, anti-fan mail — that said Who am I to be swearing on national television? To be using Jesus' name in vain?"

Langer is deliberate in everything he does.

He often puts 20 clubs in his bag during a practice round, trying to figure out which club is best for that course and the various conditions. His yardage book contains so many copious notes there's hardly any space left to write when he's done. His strength has always been his mind.

So his reaction to the "fan mail" was no different.

The letters didn't make him defensive. They made him think.

He began to ask himself who he was, what was important, what was meaningful to him. One of his friends on the PGA Tour was Bobby Clampett, who routinely invited him to Wednesday night Bible studies.

This time, Langer took him up on the offer and brought his wife, Vikki, whom he had met at the 1983 Inverrary Classic and had married a year later. The message that night was one of faith, not good deeds.

He started reading his Bible and asking more questions.

"I thought I was doing all the right things," said Langer, who grew up as a Catholic altar boy. "I was taught to be a good person, and if you did good things, God will say you've been good enough and you can go to heaven. But that's not what the Bible says."

Within three months Langer became a born-again Christian.

Langer has 64 victories around the world in his career, two of those at the Masters. He went 16 consecutive years with at least one victory on the European tour, a hallmark of his consistency. He became a stalwart for Europe in the Ryder Cup — 10 times as a player and last year as captain of the biggest European victory in history.

But for all his achievements, Langer is regarded as much for how he lives as what he has won.

And he wonders where he would be without his innocent comment in the Butler Cabin that Sunday afternoon in 1985, and the life-changing experience that followed.

Fast-forward to 1991 at Kiawah Island in the Ryder Cup. Playing against Hale Irwin in the final singles match, Langer stood over a 6-foot putt with the trophy riding on the outcome. His miss produced one of the most compelling images of how intense the Ryder Cup has become.

Langer threw his head back in utter angst, his neck straining as he let out a guttural cry of despair.

A moment like that could end someone's career.

Langer won the next week in the German Masters by making a 15-foot putt in a playoff.

"If the Ryder Cup happened to be 10 years earlier, I might have fallen apart. Who knows?" Langer said. "Having a personal relationship with God, knowing there is a bigger picture, knowing there is more to life than golf and success, I could cope with it. And I got over it pretty quick.

"My faith has helped me not in difficult times but in good times — in all times."

He does not beat his peers over the head with his Bible. He does not consider himself superior to others. And when he's on the golf course, he is thinking about winning.

He does not know if God cares who wins; Langer figures he'll ask him that one day.

"I did a lot of praying at the Ryder Cup," he said of his captaincy, which produced an 18 1/2-9 1/2 victory. "I prayed for a close match, and I'm grateful my prayer didn't get answered."

Langer made it back to the Butler Cabin in 1993 with a four-shot victory at the Masters, the widest margin of victory in 10 years at Augusta National. Fred Couples helped him put on the green jacket. Then came the live interview with CBS and a question about how special it was to win the Masters for a second time.

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Yes, it was quite an honor to win what he considers the greatest golf tournament in the world.

Langer couldn't help but mention that he won on Easter Sunday and how important that day is to Christians.

He now reflects on his two visits to the cabin and draws a conclusion that makes him smile.

"I sometimes joke," he said, "that I'm the only one to mention 'Jesus Christ' in Butler Cabin twice."

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