Thursday, Scott Langley had his way with the Waialea Country Club in the first round of the Sony Open in Hawaii, shooting 8-under 62. That was good for a one-shot lead.
And probably the reason that he was able to do that as newly minted rookie on the PGA Tour was that he was playing with his good friend and fellow rookie, Russell Henley, who shot his own sizzling 63.
Friday the tables were turned. Henley birdied the first hole and never looked back:
Got off to a good start, hit a good drive on the first hole, and that always — No. 10 is a pretty narrow hole, and it felt good to hit a good one and kind of relaxed me a little bit. Hit a little 50‑yard wedge up there and made like a pretty big curling putt for birdie, about six‑ or seven‑footer. Just kind of nice to start out with a solid hole like that.
You know, I just kind of fed off it the whole day from there.
Fed off it indeed. He never missed a green and he made seven birdies without a blemish. That might also be why he hasn’t made a bogey in two rounds.
One of the things that’s helped him to do that from a mastery point of view is that he doesn’t have any expectations:
It’s pretty surreal. I remember I got my card after the [Web.com] Tour Championship, and my family was there, and it was just kind of like, wow, I just got my PGA TOUR card. This is something I — you hope eventually one day you’ll make it out here. It’s so hard, the chances are pretty — not in your favor to get out here, and I was just like, wow, this is amazing.
So I think coming out here with not really any expectations, just trying to play my game, and hopefully by the end of this year I’ll learn and be a better player. I think with that mindset it takes a little pressure off me, and playing with Scott helps, too.
Going through the process of becoming an elite player by wide-eyed, “Alex in Wonderland,” learning is a pretty healthy way to get there. It was Yogi Berra who once said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.”
In golf, it’s by watching how your fellow competitors get around a golf course; how they handle themselves. It’s also by watching yourself and what snatches you out of the moment. That’s why professional golf is best learned beating your brains out in as many competitive situations as you can afford and have time for: junior golf, AJGA, college, mini-tours at all levels, Web.com Tour and ultimately the Big Show. It’s all a tutorial.
You have to discover how you react to situations and then how not to react to those situations. Or how you react to situations and then how to react to them in a better way. This work is a far distance from standing on the range beating balls. Beating balls is “merely” the predicate for the real work on yourself. Beating balls gives you license, the work on yourself gives you bona fides. As Henley says:
If everybody could just get out of their own way a little bit, including me a lot of time, the majority of the time, everybody could play some good golf out here. Everybody is very talented.
So Henley, and Langley the day before him, are way further along the path than they can know. In the face of all of the excitement of their first use of their Tour cards, they managed to remain calm, clear-minded and in the present. Thursday, Langley could feel himself getting excited and then was able to calm himself down by simply looking at the ocean. With a calm, clear and present mind, you can exploit the muscle memory from beating all those balls, from all of the quality instruction.
That’s where professional golf is played and because it involves a mind-state to produce a physical result, it is positively narcotic. When you get to the point where you can play deep inside it, when it’s over, it frequently produces a kind of euphoria. You realize that you can relax, you know that you’ve done well, and you’re dying to talk about it all. It’s the talking that slowly dissipates the euphoria.
And sometimes if you’re really lucky, you get to play with a great friend while this is all going on and you don’t have to wait until it’s over:
I think the good thing about Scott and I is we’re just so happy to have the opportunity to play out here. Scott is such a great guy, loves golf so much, and works hard at it. It’s just nice to play with somebody I have a lot in common with. Hopefully I get to play with him some more this weekend and a lot the rest of the year.
We’re having a great time out there. It’s definitely the way I like to play golf, talk and enjoy the day, enjoy the views, enjoy the opportunity, and that definitely helps me play better.
“Rex” is the nickname that Henley picked up at the University of Georgia. He doesn’t know why and doesn’t understand why people sometimes still call him that.
“Scotty Lang” is the nickname he gave Scott Langley and it’s a measure of their friendship that they unselfconsciously call each other by their nicknames.
And so we, as faithful observers of mastery in action, will have the privilege of watching the Rex and Scotty Lang Show as these two, warm friends go arm-in-arm in the last group through the third day of their battles with each other and with themselves.
Framed that way, how could you possibly miss it? The Golf Channel, 7PM (Eastern).