Remember all those years ago — back in 1997, to be exact — when all of these highly reverent announcements were being made by the likes of PGA Tour Commissioner, Tim Finchem, about this new program to introduce life skills through golf to kids?
Well, the program went on to become a smash hit with 6.5 million participants in those sixteen years. There are 10,000 active volunteers involved in the program, 5,100 elementary schools offering the First Tee National School Program, all 50 states offering First Tee Programs and 4 international locations — Vancouver, Ireland, Montreal, New Zealand — offering First Tee programs.
Scott Langley has the distinction of being the first little kid from the First Tee Program to make it to the PGA Tour. Do you remember what a distant accomplishment that seemed back when it all began? In fact, I think the program was designed just to seed the ranks of golfers with new blood imbued with civility and values. Mission accomplished. Langley says that he never travels without his Bible.
And who else is Scott Langley? Well, he’s the left-handed rookie fresh out of Q-School (T17) who shot a sizzling 8-under, 62 at Waialea Country Club in the first round of the Sony Open in Hawaii to take a one-shot lead. He said it was his best round as a pro:
As a pro, yeah, yeah, probably. To go bogey free the first event as a full member of the Tour, you know, I was pretty nervous starting out, and kind of settled down after three or four holes, made some nice birdies early, and kind of got me in a nice rhythm for the day. Yeah, just looking back at all my rounds professionally thus far, this might be the best one.
A year ago, he and his good friend, Russell Henley, were playing on the Hooter’s Tour. Henley joined the day’s party with his own 63 to finish second by himself:
Yeah, Russell Henley and I were walking up the 16th fairway. Russell and I have been friends for years, and we were actually playing a Hooters event together. He had just missed the cut, I barely made the cut, we were on the range trying to help each other find it.
You know, we just were walking up 16, you could see the ocean behind, PGA Tour signs everywhere, looked at each other and realized this is pretty cool. To look back one year ago and to know that we weren’t here, we were in a far different place.
That blissful retrospective capped off a round that produced an eagle and six birdies. They experienced that kind of bliss the first time they met too. They both tied for low amateur at the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach where they finished T16.
We flew from there to Northern Ireland for the Palmer Cup and literally sat next to each other for two five- to seven-hour flights, and you do that with anybody, you get to know them pretty well, and we just became fast friends and the friendship has grown.
All those competitive years paid off because he utilized some positively masterful techniques to keep his wits about him during the round:
Just pacing myself, just taking it really easy. Today when I would get excited I had to remind myself, calm down, it’s early, it’s Thursday. Take some deep breaths, distract myself in any way, normally look at the ocean, that normally does it. But yeah, I’m a young guy, but I’m old enough to know that we have a lot of golf left.
Definitely enjoying it now, and I’ll remember this day for a long time. But the competitor in me and people have taught me, I understand that tomorrow is a new day and I need to move forward.
But this stew had many cooks. Turns out Langley lived at Rickie Fowler’s house in Jupiter all last year and that experience was quite an incubator:
Rickie was great. Kid has a heart of gold, and he became one of my closest friends living in Jupiter, kind of going through a tough time personally and he really helped me out with staying at his house. Morgan Hoffman and Cam Tringale and Rickie are some of my closest friends to this day, and in large part to me living there with those guys.
Last year, I can really point to some areas in my golf game that were really improved just by being around Rickie and being around Cam and Morgan. They’re such competitors, and there’s so much good confidence, the right kind of confidence, and I really fed off that living in the house. We just talked golf a lot and played together every once in a while when we were all in town. But it was just a blast to live there.
But none of this came easy; as most of us know, golf is not easy. And from where he is now, it’s hard to believe that two years ago the landscape of his game looked pretty desolate:
I was really struggling with my game, finished my year at Illinois really poorly at nationals and throughout the summer I kind of struggled and was just fighting my golf game a lot and was kind of — John Deere Classic, perfect example, was probably rock bottom as a golfer for me. I finished dead lost, dead last by a lot, probably six or seven shots, and just so many emotions that I was excited to play, I got a sponsor exemption, being from Illinois, I wanted to play well really badly. There were almost times during the tournament and after where I felt bad for accepting the exemption because I played so poorly.
The way I got out of it, I just stayed patient. I’m an optimistic guy. I never left that. I was always — I always believed that I could come out of it and be here one day. I really did.
I had good friends around me that helped me stay patient. Russell was a great friend to me during that time. I mean, of all the guys, I would be on the range at the Dogwood or at the Porter Cup or any amateur tournament, the U.S. Am, and if he saw me struggling he’d come over and really try and help me. That year I finished dead last at Q‑school, too, at second stage, and kind of again, I thought I had it for a little while, played well at Erin Hills actually [in the U.S. Amateur], and got to Q‑school and just didn’t even give myself a chance.
Kind of went back to the drawing board, started working with Mike Adams down in Florida, and he’s really helped my game a lot. He’s been a great, great teacher and been great influence on my life, as well. So just getting back to the proper technique and never giving up hope and never giving the naysayers and giving ways to negative thinking, ever. I just stayed really positive and always believed in myself and my game and that I could be back here one day.
And so, because he came back to the PGA Tour with such an improbable splash, Scott Langley wins the Popup Player of the Day, the award designed to acknowledge so much from those we least expect it from.
One day it might come to be considered an early warning of greatness.