Defending Champion Lang Will Stick With Tested Game Plan May 26, 2017 By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Brittany Lang has seen her game round into shape as her U.S. Women's Open title defense draws near. (USGA/JD Cuban)

Brittany Lang crept to the edge of the turf at Citi Field, then gingerly stepped from the dirt onto the emerald playing surface. Her action did not go unnoticed.

A New York Mets’ security employee spied Lang’s incursion and immediately hustled over, asking in a mock gruff tone, “Hey, if I stepped in your line on the green, what would you do?” He then smiled knowingly at the reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion.

“I’d still make the putt,” was Lang’s tongue-in-cheek retort, which brought a congratulatory handshake on her victory last July. She later added, “I couldn’t help it. I had to touch that grass. It’s perfect.” 

Despite her turf transgression, it took barely a New York minute for Lang to win over players, coaches and staffers Tuesday night in her first visit to the stadium in Queens, where she mingled with the Metropolitans as they prepared for that night’s game against the San Diego Padres.

The amiable veteran player from McKinney, Texas, was accompanied by the Harton S. Semple Trophy, which she received for defeating Anna Nordqvist in a playoff at CordeValle in San Martin, Calif. She will attempt to retain the trophy for another year when the 72nd U.S. Women’s Open is contested July 13-16 at Trump National Golf Club, in Bedminster, N.J.

“I watch a lot of baseball and I’ve never been that close to a major-league field before,” said Lang, 31, a diehard Texas Rangers fan. “That was definitely the coolest thing I’ve done since winning the Women’s Open.”

That victory, Lang’s first major title and second victory since turning professional in the summer of 2005, provided the springboard to her best season on the LPGA Tour. She made the cut in 23 of her 29 events and finished ninth on the season-ending money list, the top American player. After a slow start to 2017, Lang liked the way her game was trending, with four straight finishes inside the top 20 to show for it.

“I’m starting to hit it better, putt it better… everything is on the upswing,” said Lang, who played for two years at Duke University, chalking up six tournament wins for the Blue Devils. “It’s good to get some top 20s, and I’m ready for some better finishes.”

Lang first experienced the spotlight of contention in the U.S. Women’s Open as an amateur in 2005, when she fell two strokes short, tying for second with fellow amateur Morgan Pressel after Birdie Kim holed out from a bunker on the 72nd hole at Cherry Hills Country Club. Lang added a tie for fifth in 2010 and a tie for seventh in 2013 before breaking through last summer at CordeValle.

“I like all of our majors, but I really love the U.S. Women’s Open,” said Lang, who played on the victorious 2004 USA Curtis Cup Team with fellow future Women’s Open champions Paula Creamer and Michelle Wie. “I love that you don’t need to make six or seven birdies a day to compete. I was pretty sure that I was going to win one of these someday.”

Lang bookended a pair of 4-under 68s last year with a second-round 75, which left her in a tie for fourth place, two strokes behind world No. 1 Lydia Ko entering the final round. Lang played a steady round of 1-under 71 as Ko faltered, then she captured a three-hole playoff marked by a costly two-stroke penalty to Nordqvist to earn the victory.

“I didn’t look at any leader boards,” said Lang of her Sunday strategy. “I stuck to my plan and didn’t pay any attention to what else was happening. I just tried to do my best, one shot at a time and see what happens.”

That game plan suits the mental and physical resolve required by the Women’s Open, and it also plays into Lang’s philosophy of freeing her mind when she competes alongside her brother-caddie Luke.

“For the most part, when we’re done with a shot, Luke and I don’t ever talk about that shot again,” said Lang, who counts the mental aspect of the game as much as 80 percent responsible for her results. “It’s so refreshing. No matter whether I hit a bad shot or we had a bad read on a putt – whatever it is – I like to be done with it, move on and talk about something else.”

One recent topic of discussion was probably Luke’s marriage. Lang, who was in town for Women’s Open Preview Day, headed home to Texas the day after the Mets game to prepare for her brother’s May 26 wedding to Kathleen Ekey, who competes on the Symetra Tour. Lang was unsure of her caddie’s honeymoon plans.

“I have no restrictions on him,” she said with a laugh. “He can take his honeymoon whenever he wants.”

Expect to see Luke on the bag, but either way, Lang’s formula won’t change when she arrives at Trump Bedminster.

“I’ll keep working on my game and take it one shot at a time,” said Lang. “It would be really cool to be in contention there.”

Cool, yes, but it would not be particularly surprising.

Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.

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