Illini notebook: Scott Langley to play in U.S. Amateur before returning to college team
The origin of Illinois senior Scott Langley’s love for golf can be traced to the Family Golf Center, a recreational facility in the St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood with a hometown feel where kids learn to swing their clubs by hitting off artificial grass mats.
"I just went there yesterday,'' Langley said late last week. "Hitting off those mats, I wanted to get back to my roots a little bit.''
He came a long way this summer. Langley, a native of Manchester, Mo., won the NCAA title in June, then qualified for the U.S. Open and finished in a tie for 16th at Pebble Beach.
Langley also played on the victorious Palmer Cup team (a college-age version of the Ryder Cup) in Northern Ireland and will end his summer season next week at the U.S. Amateur and then return to collegiate golf at Illinois, where he is the reigning Big Ten player of the year and a member of the two-time defending conference champs.
By having a hot week or a solid month, any golfer can call summer a success. The summer swing fed Langley with more confidence that he can play with best.
"I made a lot of sacrifices, not only this year but all throughout my junior career and college career,'' he said. "Practice came before my friends and social life. I knew I was doing the right things, practicing the right way and thinking the right way.''
Illinois golf enjoyed other moments this summer. Coach Mike Small won the PGA Club Pro championship and played in the PGA Championship last weekend, when he missed the cut. Junior Luke Guthrie finished second at the Illinois Open, one spot ahead of Small, but Langley grabbed the spotlight.
Down two shots heading into the final round at the NCAA championships, Langley shot a second straight 4-under-par 68, then waited for the afternoon pairings to finish. Langley learned of his NCAA title while eating dinner with his teammates miles from the course and put his hands on the trophy the following day, when he was named the Arnold Palmer college player of the year.
Langley won a U.S. Open qualifier in suburban St. Louis four days later, taking the only berth to the Open from the 19-man field. When he arrived at Pebble Beach late on the Sunday afternoon before the tournament began, Langley and his caddy found the course essentially empty, only bumping into PGA pro Fred Funk.
"It took us three hours to play 18 holes,'' Langley said. "Nobody out there. Just us. It was pretty awesome; just to be in one of the coolest places in the world and to have it to yourself was pretty sweet.''
Langley carded five straight birdies on the back nine in the second round, then finished three shots away from the top 10 and an invitation to next year's Open. He tied for low amateur. From there, he flew to Northern Ireland for the Palmer Cup and his first experience with European golf. Langley and Illini teammate Chris DeForest are entered in the U.S. Amateur, held Aug. 23 to 29 at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash.
"The NCAAs and going to the Open made my year,'' Langley said. "Those are two things that are really going to help me in the future with professional golf. There are so many guys like I was before the NCAA, real close to breaking through. It takes one or two breakthrough performances to set yourself apart from the other guys.
"In the future, it will open up some opportunities to play in events and get some support.''
Langley is already planning ahead. His girlfriend, Allison LaBelle of Springfield, will settle near her job in West Palm Beach, Fla., which coincidentally is a pretty good place for an aspiring pro golfer. He'll check out some courses there, but Langley has one more year of college golf and new challenges.
"Now he's dealing with the expectations from playing well,'' Small said. "He loves the game and has good work ethic.''
And it all started on those plastic mats.
BASKETBALL: Coach Bruce Weber will attend Illini Night at two minor league baseball games later this month. Weber is available for autographs and pictures at the Peoria Chiefs game at O'Brien Field on Wednesday and the Normal Cornbelters on Aug. 26 at the Corn Crib.
Illinois senior center Mike Tisdale returned home after a week in New York while serving with the U.S. select team against the national team in preparation for the World Championships.
Season ticket renewals and new season ticket orders are being accepted. Season tickets in C-level tickets are $406. Illinois is also offering a mini-pack for the seven non-conference home games (including North Carolina game), the two exhibitions and the intrasquad scrimmage. The cost is $129 for C-level seats. Tickets can be purchased online at fightingillini.com and by phone at 866-ILLINI-1.
VOLLEYBALL: With four players on the preseason all-Big Ten team, Illinois was picked to finish second behind juggernaut Penn State in the conference coaches poll. Minnesota, a Final Four qualifier last season, was selected third, with Ohio State and Michigan filling the top five.
Outside hitter Laura DeBruler, senior middle blocker Johannah Bangert, senior setter Hillary Haen and junior outside hitter Michelle Bartsch were all-conference preseason picks. Illinois hosts Penn State on Sept. 24.
Penn State is the three-time defending NCAA champ that rides a 65-match win streak in Big Ten play and 102 matches overall.
"It just feels like our time,'' DeBruler said. "We've had some different components that we've been adding and have a really good freshman class. Hopefully, this year is the year to do something special.''
Illinois lost in the Sweet 16 in NCAA play last season.
IN OTHER NEWS: Illinois senior Paul Ruggeri was selected as an alternate for the U.S. men's gymnastics team that will compete in the World Championships. Ruggeri will travel with the team for the meet Oct. 17 to 24 in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com