Erin, Wis. - For Scott Langley, the U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills Golf Course is more than the national championship, it's a competition within a competition.
“I think I'm still in a really good spot,” Langley said. “The numbers on the scorecards this summer have not been good, but I know whenever I get into those [elevated] situations, I excel. I have my whole life.
“But when all is said and done, talk is cheap. I need to go out and perform.”
The team to which Langley refers is the 2011 USA Walker Cup Team, which will compete against its Great Britain & Ireland counterpart Sept. 10-11 at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club in Scotland. Less than a year ago, Langley seemed to have a berth locked up.
The 2011 University of Illinois graduate dominated the amateur golf scene in 2010. He was the Big Ten Player of the Year. He won the NCAA Division I individual championship and finished in a tie for 16th at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links to share low-amateur honors with Russell Henley, who was one of the first four players named to the 2011 Walker Cup squad.
And he wasn't done there. The St. Louis, Mo. native reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur, played on the USA World Amateur Team in Argentina and won the clinching match for the U.S. in the Palmer Cup.
In January, Langley was among a group of amateurs invited to the Walker Cup practice session with captain Jim Holtgrieve. But things have changed dramatically over the past few months. Langley's senior season at Illinois proved to be less than spectacular. His scoring average (79.91) swelled more than 1½ stokes and he had no wins among seven top-10s in 15 events.
At the end of the college schedule, he struggled at the NCAA Championship in Stillwater, Okla., and his struggles have leaked into the summer. He played in the PGA Tour John Deere Classic on an exemption, but missed the cut with scores of 76-83. Late in July, he posted rounds of 75-71-71-74 (11 over par) to finish T-72 with World Amateur teammate David Chung at the Porter Cup. A week later, he failed to make the 36-hole stroke-play cut at the Western Amateur in suburban Chicago with scores of 75-70.
Few World Amateur Team participants have been left off the Walker Cup squad the following year, but Langley's free fall has been so profound he appears to be in danger of setting that precedent. Remarkably, he is not alone.
Another 2010 World Team member, Stanford's David Chung, is in a similar spot. Chung won the Porter Cup and the Western Amateur last summer, then finished runner-up at the U.S. Amateur. But like Langley, he has lost the momentum in 2011.
The USGA International Team Selection Committee has named seven players to the team coming into the U.S. Amateur. The last three slots for the 10-man team will be filled after this week's national championship. USGA executive committeeman Tom O'Toole Jr., who is on the selection committee, is a St. Louis native that knows Langley well and admires his intangibles.
“He's a great kid,” said O'Toole, who is on the International Team Selection Committee. “He has a tremendous attitude about the game and he is very well respected by his fellow players.”
While St. Louis native Holtgrieve doesn't have a selection vote, he does have a special place in his heart for a hometown product to make the team. That said, everyone realizes Langley has to give the USGA some concrete evidence that he belongs. This week’s U.S. Amateur represents his last chance for redemption.
“I got into some bad habits and I had a slump this summer; there's no other way to describe it,” said Langley. “But I think every great player, at one point or another, has gone through something like that. So I feel lucky that it's happened to me at this time, early in my career, and hopefully I can put it behind me.
“I feel good right now. I feel like I really found something the second day of the Western [Amateur]. Even though I missed the cut, I shot a 70 on a tough golf course (North Shore Country Club) and felt good about it. I've been repeating the same good things over and over since then and my game feels very normal, like it always was.”
U.S. Amateur play begins with 36 holes of stroke-play qualifying on Monday and Tuesday at both Erin Hills and Blue Mound Golf & Country Club, the companion stroke-play qualifying venue. The field will trimmed to 64 for match play starting on Wednesday. Langley tees off at 8:30 a.m. CDT with Scotland's Michael Stewart and Max Buckley (Rye, N.Y). It is another opportunity for Langley to make a statement – Stewart was just named last week to the Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup Team.
“I think this summer has probably helped develop some toughness in me that maybe I didn't have before,” said Langley. “I've gotten more frustrated at times this summer than I probably ever had before. One of the reasons I got so frustrated was I was pressing too hard to make the team, I wanted it so badly.
“Now, obviously I would love to have that opportunity. But I know that whatever happens, I'll be OK and my career will be OK. I just want to go out and enjoy this week. I love the golf course, the way it sets up for me. I'm excited about the opportunity.”