Pebble Beach, Calif. - Scott Langley is a self-described "range rat," too short for basketball, too small for football, too slow to play soccer. On the other hand, he could swing a golf club well enough to compete in the Wal-Mart First Tee Open at Pebble Beach as a 16 year old.
He was even part of the winning team, playing alongside Champions Tour standout Dana Quigley. It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment, or so it seemed. Who would have thought he would be back on the Monterey Peninsula four years later, still relatively short, small and slow, and competing in a U.S. Open.
"It's really come full circle for me," said the St. Louis resident and rising senior at the University of Illinois. "To come here and play in that event and then come back years later and play in the U.S. Open …. If you had told me back then I was going to play in the next U.S. Open at Pebble Beach., I mean, it would have blown my mind. I would have no idea what to think about it."
That said, Langley had a good idea what to think as he continued to improve as an amateur, becoming a high school standout at Parkway South High in St. Louis, and then an All-America at Illinois.
"As soon as I found out the U.S. Open was going to be at Pebble Beach this year, I made it a big goal of mine to make it out here," Langley, now 21, added. "Because I knew how awesome this place is and, obviously, it's the U.S. Open."
"Awesome" would be the appropriate term to describe Langley's path to Pebble. It began with a collegiate junior season that included seven top-10 finishes in 13 events and a school-record scoring average of 71.38. Langley was named the Big 10 Player of the Year and led the Illini into the NCAA Tournament.
From a team standpoint, the NCAA week was disappointing, as Illinois failed to make the match-play stage. But Langley, disgusted with a tie for 24th individually at the Big 10 Tournament, caught fire. He carded back-to-back 68s in the final two rounds and won the individual title on June 3, joining an exclusive club that includes the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, to name a few.
"When I had time to think about the players who have won the NCAAs, and even the players who have not won it, who went on to do some great things, it's pretty amazing," Langley said.
That was just the beginning. Three days later, in a field of 19 amateurs and pros vying for a single U.S. Open qualification, the left-handed-swinging Langley shot rounds of 66-66 to go 8-under par, win the sectional tournament and punch his ticket back to Pebble Beach.
"I couldn't have drawn it up any better than to pick, not only my first major championship but my first professional event, to be out here," Langley said. "It's pretty special."
Of his remarkable four-day run, Langley added, "It was a very big week in my career and everything kind of came together. It was a season where I came really close to winning, but never seemed to be able to pull it off in the end. And then to finally string three good rounds together, and that stage, against those players, was really special. It's something that I will always cherish and nobody can take it away from me."
Langley is hoping to pull off more magic in the weeks and months ahead. The 2010 Big 10 Player of the Year has no immediate plans to turn pro. Rather, he will continue to compete as an amateur this summer, return to Illinois in the fall and set his sights on the 2011 U.S. Walker Cup.
The U.S. Walker Cup captain, fellow St. Louisan Jim Holtgrieve, was among those watching Langley's performance in the U.S. Open sectional.
"Amateur golf is very important to me, and it's something I intend on sticking with for a while," Langley said. "People have asked me, are you going to turn pro, or what are you going to do? And I have told them without hesitation, not yet.
"I want to play in the Walker Cup in a year and a half. That's on the top of my list of goals, something I really want to follow through on. I have to give Capt. Holtgrieve a reason to pick me."
Another impressive performance at Pebble might help pave the way to the Walker Cup. The last amateur from St. Louis to make the cut at a U.S. Open was none other than Holtgrieve, who played all four rounds at Cherry Hills in 1978.
The normally unflappable Langley, the first St. Louisan to win an NCAA individual title since Jay Haas in 1975, should not be overwhelmed by his surroundings. In addition to participating in the 2006 First Tee event, he also played in the '05 tournament and he has teed it up at Pebble Beach on a handful of occasions.
More comforting, he will have close friend and former St. Louis high school adversary Will Dierinzo on the bag. Dierinzo, now a pro at the Patriot Club in Tulsa, Okla., caddied for Langley at the sectional qualifier. "I figured we'd keep the good mojo going," Langley said.
At the same time, Langley has his parents, grandparents, girlfriend, Illinois teammates, other friends and family and, he explained, "just about everybody from the USA, I think," to support him this week.
Victory in a scramble at Pebble Beach four years ago isn't the U.S. Open, but it counts for something.
"It was set up a lot different, obviously," Langley said. "The course looks pretty similar, but the fairways have been moved or narrowed in some spots, I think, and even widened in some spots to bring more of the hazards into play. It's also playing longer and the greens are a lot faster.
"But it's nice for me coming back because I think whenever you play here, there's kind of that 'Wow' factor. You have to get over it before you can just focus on playing. For me, it's nice that's already happened and I can just come here and focus on playing golf."
He's still short, small and slow. But when it comes to golf, Scott Langley is back at Pebble Beach, walking among the giants.