Best Summer Ever
Oct. 5, 2010
By Larry Watts
It had been over a year since Scott Langley last won a golf tournament for the University of Illinois. It wasn't that the junior southpaw from Manchester, Mo. had been playing badly because the Big Ten Player of the Year had placed in the top 10 seven times out of 13 events. He just hadn't put three solid rounds together consistently at one event.
That all changed last June at the NCAA Championship. From the moment he teed it up on the first hole, he was in the hunt. And by the time the last challenger had drained his final putt, Langley stood atop the leader board with a three-day total of 10-under par 206.
With the two-stroke victory, he set a school record for stroke average (71.37) on the year and became the first Illinois golfer to win the men's national title. The last time the Honors Course in suburban Chattanooga had hosted the NCAA Championship, in 1996, a Stanford golfer by the name of Tiger Woods had walked off with the title.
"There had been some individual disappointments during the year; I had finished second three times," Langley says. "To be that close and not win was a little bit of a letdown, but at this time of the year it's all about team golf. In most of the tournaments I was able to help the team win, so that was the good part about it and I couldn't be too disappointed.
"The Honors Course is a great course and it really identifies the guys who are playing well. It is a very challenging course off the tees and into the greens."
Langley stood fourth after the first round after carding a 2-under 70. Then he came back with back-to-back 4-under rounds of 68.
"My ball striking was probably the best it had been all year," he says. "I had five- or six-hole stretches with a bunch of birdies, and when I did get cold, I had been making enough birdies to shoot good scores all three days. It was the first tournament of the year where everything came together for three consecutive days and it was nice to finally do that on the big stage."
The performance at the NCAA Championship seemed to ignite Langley to a summer where he could build on his golf resume. "Anytime you win a big tournament like that, it gives you a lot of confidence," he says.
Langley not only qualified for the U.S. Open at historic Pebble Beach, but he made the cut and shared low amateur honors by tying for 16th with an 8-over total of 292. His 69 in Friday's second round included five consecutive birdies on the back nine.
"An experience of a lifetime," says Langley, who got a chance to play practice rounds with Justin Leonard, Davis Love, Tom Watson and former Illini golfer Steve Stricker, who ranks fourth in the world. "If I was playing well, I knew I could make the cut, but I didn't expect to finish 16th.
"To be realistic, playing in my first major, it was a nice surprise to finish that high. I want to be in position some day where I am always contending in majors."
With virtually no time to rest, Langley, who had been selected as part of the U.S. team for the Palmer Cup, immediately departed for Ireland. The eight-man contingent from the United States would square off against eight of the best collegiate golfers from Europe.
Langley posted a 2-2 record, which included two rounds of pairs and two rounds of individual play. He would clinch the 13-11victory for the Americans when he pared the 17th hole in the final round.
"It was my first trip overseas to play golf and to go with a bunch of guys I am friends with, compete a few days and learn about a different culture was a great experience," he says. "I just tried to keep doing what I had been doing the past few weeks. I struggled for a couple of days, but I played my best on the final day.
"It was great to clinch it for my country, but it really was a whole team effort. There were guys who scored my points than I did. I was pretty worn out from all the traveling and the U.S. Open and it just happened that my match was the last one to finish."
After a brief vacation with his family, the next big event on Langley's schedule was the U.S. Amateur Public Links. He was tied for 13th after two rounds of stroke play and then defeated Greg Condon of UNC-Charlotte 2&1 in the first round of match play. However, the first-team All-American fell to Chris Williams of the University of Washington in 20 holes during the second round of match play.
Before his summer was complete, he still had to head to Chambers Bay, Wash. for the 110th U.S. Amateur. This would mark Langley's third trip to the U.S. Amateur, where lost he lost in the first round of match play the first time and fell in the second round of match play on the second try. This time, he advanced to the quarterfinals only to fall 1-up to eventual runner-up David Chung of Stanford.
The accounting major has four tournaments on the docket this fall for the University of Illinois, ending with the Jack Nicklaus Invitational in Upper Arlington, Ohio Oct. 11-12. But while the Illini end the fall portion of their schedule at that time, Langley still has to head to Buenos Aries, Argentina at the end of the month to play in the World Amateur Team Championships. Langley joins Chung and U.S. Amateur champ Peter Uihlein of Oklahoma State as the three-man contingent to play against over 70 teams throughout the world.
"It's going to be a blast," Langley says. "Peter, David and I have been good friends for a long time through Junior Golf. I have never been to South America and probably the thing I am looking to the most about this experience is seeing all these different cultures from around the world. But as much as I'm looking forward to the travel, our main purpose will be to bring the title back to the U.S."
According to Langley, the experience at Illinois has been everything he had hoped and then some. After being named Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2008, he has earned first-team all-conference honors the past two springs as the Illini have won back-to-back Big Ten titles.
On choosing Illinois, Langley said "I wanted to be educated and have a good background academically, and Illinois just seemed like the right fit because of the coaching staff, the facilities and schedule as well as the academics. To be only three hours from my house was a big factor. I was very comfortable making this my home away from home. If something like an injury keeps me from my professional aspirations, it's good to know I have a solid backup plan because of the academics."
It's no surprise Langley has been very successful in juggling his academics with his demanding golf schedule. He's has been known to do a little entertaining as a juggler.
"Baseballs and golf balls, but no more than three at once," he says with a laugh. "I've been doing it since grade school. Those rubber chickens in gym class were probably the hardest to handle."
Although he likes to play with numbers, Langley, whose career average of 72.45 is on course to break Stricker's career average at Illinois, pays little attention to rankings. Golfweek currently rates him No. 12 among the collegiate players.
"I might look at the rankings every now and then, but rankings are just a number to me," he says. "I have to stay in the present and try to improve every day. I can't afford to let myself get caught up in things outside the golf course.
"For now, I am part of the team at the University of Illinois. I am fully committed to doing what I can to help us win a championship. This team has the potential to be the best I've played on at Illinois. It's nice to have had all those things happen this past summer, but they have to be put on the back burner now and I have to concentrate on what we're doing as a team and helping us get better."