Scott Langley becomes Illinois' first national champion in golf.
June 3, 2010
Ooltewah, Tenn. - Illinois junior Scott Langley, entered the NCAA Championship the 26th ranked player in the country according to the Golfweek computer. He has been a model of consistency in 2009-10, scoring seven top 10s in 13 events. With three wins in his first two years, Langley was without one in his junior season -- that is until Thursday when Langley became the new champion of NCAA golf.
The Honors Course in suburban Chattanooga prides itself as one of the bastions for amateur golf. In its history this gem has hosted two NCAA Championships one in 1996 and another in 2010. Its two champions are Tiger Woods of Stanford and Scott Langley of Illinois. Coming into the event, the best finish by an Illini at the NCAA came from the world's current No. 4 ranked player Steve Stricker, who finished ninth in 1988.
The junior posted his second straight 68 after an opening round 70 on the 7,395-yard par 72 course. With a score of ten-under par 206, Langley betters Alex Ching (-8) of San Diego and Peter Uihlein (-8) of Oklahoma State by two shots. Diego Velasquez of Oregon State, who became the third player in two days to tie the course record with a 66 Thursday, finished fourth at -7 followed by first-round co-leader Henrik Norlander of Augusta State at -6.
"This is pretty special," said Langley, who joins Angela Bizzarri (cross and track & field) as national champions from Illinois this school year. "I've worked really hard for it. It's been a year of ups and downs for me, but I've stayed strong throughout the year."
"It's really exciting for him, but he earned it," said Illinois head coach Mike Small. "He's had a great year. Although he hasn't won, he's learned a lot about himself - how to handle his expectations and his thoughts. It culminated this week."
Langley's day began early. Wednesday's second round was suspended because of darkness, so he and sophomore Luke Guthrie had a 5 am wake-up call to come out to play the 18th hole of their second rounds. Guthrie pared, while Langley posted his second straight bogey. That put Langley in fourth at -6 for the tournament, three shots behind leader Ching.
While Ching and most of the other challengers played in the afternoon wave, Langley and the Fighting Illini teed it up some three hours later and Langley posted a number for those chasing him to try to catch. He reached a tournament low -11 at one point and finished his round at -10, one stroke ahead of Ching. From there, Langley had to play the waiting game, conducting an array of media appearances and heading back to the hotel to watch the rest of the field try to catch him via the computer.
The challengers began to drop in the steamy afternoon sun. Ching, playing with fellow challenger Norlander, caught Langley at -10 through six holes. Ching bogeyed three of the next six holes, however, to fall back to -7, three strokes back before finally birdying 14 and finishing at -8. Norlander reached -9 with back-to-back birdies on three and four, but also retreated to -7. The only other challenger was Uihlein, who shot a one-under par 71, but could get no closer than -8.
For the second time in three days, Langley began his round on No. 10, and lit fire on the back nine. For the second straight day, he birdied 14 and followed it up a few holes later by sinking an eagle putt on the 545-yard par-five 17th. Two holes later, his approach on No. 1 was within inches of the cup. Tapping in for birdie gave him the outright lead for the first time in the tournament. Another birdie on two got him to -11.
"You get a little momentum on this course and a lot of good things can happen," Langley said. "I gave myself a lot of opportunities this week and it was a matter of time before I was able to make a few in a row."
After missing the fairway on both No. 5 and No. 7, Langley settled for bogeys, but responded by draining a 12-footer for birdie on eight and two-putting for par on nine.
Langley said he didn't focus on the leader board that much. "I just tried to take it one step at a time," he said. "I've learned that if you think about that stuff too much, usually it doesn't help. I tried to focus on playing smart, bogey-free golf and I was almost able to do that."
Langley's score of 206 gives him a season stroke average of 71.38, which establishes a new school record. His career average is also better than Stricker's Illini mark through three seasons.
He has done whatever it takes to make himself better. That's why after a shaky 24th individual performance at the Big Ten Championship and with three weeks until the Regional, Langley went back to St. Louis to play in a pair of tournaments and re-energize his game. The result was a seventh-place finish at the NCAA West Regional and Thursday's national title. Along the way he won his first round U.S. Open qualifier and plays Monday in a sectional qualifier to try to make into the U.S. Open.
"I didn't have too many expectations coming into this weekend, but I did feel good about my game," Langley said. "This course is very challenging. I came in trying to have fun and enjoy playing the best I could."
As a team, Illinois played the last two rounds at a combined -4, good for a 19th-place finish, up 11 places from Tuesday's opening round.
"If we play like that all three days, we're probably in the match play round," Small said, "We just put ourselves behind the eight-ball with our first round and it was just too much to come back from. It was a solid last two days for sure."
Sophomore Luke Guthrie played his second straight under par round with a 71 while junior Chris DeForest finished with three birdies in his last four holes for his second straight even par 72 round. Senior Matt Hoffman had his best round of the tournament with a 76 while fellow senior Zach Barlow shot 77. Overall the Illini finished at +12 as a team after scoring a one-under par 287 in Thursday's final round.
"We had that Illini attitude of fighting to the end," Small said. "I was very proud of our guys for that. We're building a program, though. We're getting closer each year to where we want to be and that's what's fun about it."
Barlow and Hoffman along with juniors Langley and DeForest have been in the line-up for three straight national championship qualifiers and played a big role in the program's rise, which has also included two Big Ten titles and 16 tournament victories.
"Those guys really bought in," Small said of the seniors. "They should take ownership about what we've been able to accomplish."
Also this week PING released its 2010 All-Region Teams and the Illini had four on the All-Midwest team - Langley, Guthrie, DeForest and Barlow.
The official national championship trophy presentation won't be until Friday morning after a three-school playoff determines the final team in the match play round for the team championship. Stanford, Arizona State and San Diego are tied for the last spot at +4. The other sevens teams which advanced include Oklahoma State (-14), Florida State (-10), Georgia Tech (-6), Washington (-4), Oregon (-3), Augusta State (-1) and Texas Tech (+3).