U.S. OPEN

USGA’s Scott Langley Reminisces on U.S. Open Experiences

By David Shefter, USGA

| Mar 11, 2024 | Liberty Corner, N.J.

USGA’s Scott Langley Reminisces on U.S. Open Experiences

Scott Langley is entering his second full year as the USGA’s senior director of player relations. Prior to his arrival, the 34-year-old Illinois native spent 10 seasons as a touring professional on both the PGA and Korn Ferry tours, winning one event (2018 Panama Championship). But his greatest successes were in USGA championships – both as an amateur and as a professional.

The left-hander, who won the 2010 NCAA Division I individual title for the University of Illinois, qualified for four U.S. Amateurs (quarterfinalist in 2010 at Chambers Bay), two U.S. Amateur Public Links and four U.S. Opens, never missing the cut for match play, or the weekend at the Open.

He also became the first alum of The First Tee to qualify for the PGA Tour. Langley, who shared low-amateur honors with Russell Henley in the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links, qualified for his fourth and final U.S. Open 10 years ago at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2 (T-54), which is where this year’s championship will be contested in June. Langley will be in a much different role in 2024, assisting with setup and player relations. The father of two girls chatted with USGA senior staff writer David Shefter about his last U.S. Open start as a player and why he always cherished USGA championships.

Question: Does it seem like it’s been 10 years since that 2014 U.S. Open appearance?

Langley: A lot of life has happened since then. Unfortunately, I didn’t play well enough after that one to get back in for the 2015 Open. There was a year or two where I was playing on the Korn Ferry Tour and I didn’t [try to qualify] because I was really trying to focus on getting my [PGA Tour] card back. I tried every year I was on the PGA Tour and almost every year I was on the Korn Ferry [Tour].

Question: But when you did manage to qualify, you never missed the cut, going 4 for 4. That’s a mighty impressive statistic. Why do you think you had so much success as a U.S. Open qualifier?

Langley: The U.S. Open always suited my game. I went to the University of Illinois and we played in really tough conditions, not necessarily with the golf courses but the [challenging] weather, and I developed a sense of toughness and understanding that sometimes pars are good. That’s what the U.S. Open requires as a player. Having that mindset was nothing new to me. So when I stepped on the tee, I just felt well-prepared mentally to take on the challenge. Physically, I never was the longest player, but at my best, I was very accurate, so typically the U.S. Open year over year required that kind of precision.

Emotionally, the U.S. Open always brought the best out of me. It always meant the most to me playing it. Just that little bit of extra motivation. Not that I didn’t care about every other tournament I played, but I stood up on that first tee, looked at that USGA tee marker and looked at the grandstands and saw USGA and U.S. Open, and it just meant more.

Question: Had you played at Pinehurst before the 2014 U.S. Open, and specifically the recent renovations by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw that saw the rough replaced by native areas?

Langley: I played the [2007] North & South Amateur and made it to [the Round of 16]. I played the U.S. Amateur there in 2008. Having not being from the southeast, I had spent very little time in that area. When I did play, though, the identity of the golf course was still very much the same in terms of the runoffs around the greens and the width of the fairways. Obviously quite a bit of difference once you get off the fairways today than back in the late 2000s. Coming there for the U.S. Open, it was pretty much the same version we have today minus the difference in the turfgrass on the putting greens.

Scott Langley followed up his 2010 NCAA Division I individual title by sharing low-amateur honors in the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

Scott Langley followed up his 2010 NCAA Division I individual title by sharing low-amateur honors in the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

Question: Successfully navigating Course No. 2 requires prudent strategy and course management. Did you have a solid game plan for the 2014 U.S. Open?

Langley: I think I did. I never was a guy who overpowered golf courses. I needed to take a little different approach. It was more making sure my short game was ready. You miss a lot of greens around Pinehurst, so you need to be creative and practice some of those weird shots. That’s what I did: practiced some of those awkward shots with different clubs as I possibly could. There are parts of the golf course where you need to be precise off the tee. But I wouldn’t consider it the narrowest golf course that I’ve ever played. It really came down to making sure my iron game and short game were really dialed in.

Question: Just getting to Pinehurst required some tense moments in final qualifying. You were in a 5-for-2 playoff for the final spots at Colonial Country Club in Memphis, Tenn., after posting 6 under par, and wound up as first alternate. Then a day later the USGA called and said you were in the field. What was that situation like?

Langley: Funny enough, I think that was the year I logged my very first hole-in-one in competition at final qualifying. Obviously, you need every shot, and that got me in the playoff. Looking back, I think [the USGA’s] Robbie [Zalzneck] texted me that night or called me the next day and just said, we always hold a few spots for the OWGR [Official Golf Ranking], so just hang tight. You still have a really good shot [at making the field]. Playing in Memphis that year, we were higher on the priority ranking because the field was strong. So for re-allotment (in case alternates needed to be added to fill the field) we were high on the list. I think I got the call [early the following week] and said, “Hey, you’re in.” That was so exciting.

Question: Talk about the qualifying process. It’s 36 holes in one day with limited spots available to play in one of the four major championships. What is that day like for a player? 

Langley: It’s a grind. Often times you are coming from another tournament, so you’re trying to gather yourself Sunday night to get to a new city or new place. Sometimes it’s a flight. Sometimes you are making a 4-, 5-, 6-hour drive. With very few exceptions, it never felt like something I could pass up. It’s an opportunity to play well for nine hours and get into a major. That’s pretty amazing. It’s exciting. It’s just such a cool part of the U.S. Open identity. That it truly is open and such a large portion of the field can come from anywhere.

Question: Speaking of such, you accomplished the feat as an amateur. Obviously, you had a great 2010 season by winning the NCAA individual title shortly before your final qualifier in Greater St. Louis. You also had to go through the 18-hole local stage that year as well. What was that journey like to eventually get to play at Pebble Beach and be the co-low amateur?

Langley: It’s a meritocracy. You play well, you get through. It’s the beauty of the U.S. Open. That year I had to figure out my local qualifying site at the end of my college season. And then get back to final qualifying. I actually chose a site [near] my hometown, but it was a 22-for-1 site (C.C. of St. Albans). I knew what I was signing up for. I didn’t totally think it was going to be one spot, but when I showed up, I said, all right, let’s do this. I was riding a great golf high. I had just won the NCAA championship. I had won a local match-play event in St. Louis. I played great that day and got in.

Former PGA Tour pro Scott Langley (second from right) now impacts the U.S. Open by assisting the USGA team with setting up the championship for the world's best players. (USGA/Eric Thayer)

Former PGA Tour pro Scott Langley (second from right) now impacts the U.S. Open by assisting the USGA team with setting up the championship for the world's best players. (USGA/Eric Thayer)

Question: How do you manage the physical and mental grind of a 36-hole day knowing there is only one spot available?

Langley: You just know what you have to do: beat everybody there. I approached that day with a lot of determination and was playing with a lot of confidence on a course I was very familiar with and had success in Metropolitan Opens at St. Albans. It just felt like a good fit.

Question: And you rode that momentum to sharing low-amateur honors at Pebble Beach.

Langley: One of my favorite achievements. What a place. To have that be my first big [professional] event. It was really the first time I played in front of any sort of major gallery. I had never played a tour event. Playing a U.S. Open at Pebble — it’s tough to beat that.

Question: What is the feeling like as a player to qualify for U.S. Opens, which are conducted on some of world’s greatest venues?

Langley: There’s tremendous excitement. You’ve got this amazing week ahead of you. And iconic venues. That’s the cool thing about the U.S. Open. I had been to Pinehurst and been to Pebble, but playing the U.S. Open at Merion [in 2013] – how amazing is that? And at The Olympic Club [in 2012]. I had never been there. We get to go to these amazing places. Especially for a qualifier, it might be their only U.S. Open ever. And it might be their one and only chance to play that golf course. You think of some of the exclusive places we take the championship: Oakmont, Shinnecock. Pebble is public, but it’s not easy to get on [with the cost of a round]. It’s a special opportunity. For someone who loves golf and is competitive, the U.S. Open is just an incredible opportunity.

Question:  Having watched the U.S. Open as a kid, did actually playing in the event exceed your expectations?

Langley: It’s just so much bigger than you could ever anticipate. The galleries. The grandstands. The stage. There’s just a vibe and feeling you get when you tee off. There’s a buzz in the air. It’s palpable. It’s different than any other tournament I’ve ever played, and I have played in some big tournaments like The Players Championship, Riviera (Genesis Open), Hilton Head (Heritage). They are iconic [PGA] Tour events, but the U.S. Open is just always bigger. Some of my greatest memories are just how the crowd makes you feel. You get that very few places in the game.

Question: How did you personally handle the first-tee nerves at a U.S. Open, especially at a place like Pinehurst where you walk by the Payne Stewart statue and know the great history of the venue?

Langley: It’s all about routine. There’s no doubt in my mind that when I stepped on the first tee at a U.S. Open it just meant more to me. But at the same time, in order to play well, you’ve just got to stick to what you normally do. That’s the best way to trick your brain into thinking this is business as usual. Warm-up routine. Your pre-shot routine. The way you get ready in the starter’s tent. You get your hole-location sheet, you get your scorecard, you get your snacks. You try to make things as normal as possible, even though deep down you know it’s not.

Question: You opened the 2014 U.S. Open with rounds of 72-71 (1-over 143) to earn a weekend tee time. Talk about those first two competitive days at Pinehurst.

Langley: I probably drafted a little bit off [fellow qualifier] Erik Compton because he played so well. He ended up finishing runner-up that week [with Rickie Fowler]. We just had a really nice vibe the first two days (Pablo Larrazabal of Spain was third player in group). I don’t necessarily remember every single shot I hit, but I remember being in pretty good control of my game, and not getting in too much trouble, and recovering well when I missed greens. My short game was good. I never did any of that ping-pong, back-and-forth stuff that you can sometimes see with the turtleback greens [at Pinehurst].

Question: It appeared the course toughened up on the weekend because you posted rounds of 75-75. Did it become more challenging?

Langley: As the week went on, the golf course just kind of wore on me. It was so hard. I think of the four U.S. Opens that I played, Pinehurst was the most challenging to get the ball close to the hole on the approach shots. Pebble, you had the ability to do that. Most of the greens are back to front. Even being very firm, you just land it on the front, one or two big hops and then [the ball] stops. Olympic Club was very similar. Merion was soft [from the rain], so it was a little more receptive. But Pinehurst was firm and the angles of the putting greens are such that, especially for me not being the longest player in the game and not hitting my approach shots as high as other guys, I had to think about where I was landing the ball so it would stay on the green. Especially on longer holes, I paid close attention to where I was landing my ball and count on it bouncing the way I expected it to. I felt like I was grinding over every approach shot. I joke [with my current USGA championship colleagues] that I cruised my way to may [T-54]. It was not great.

Scott Langley's U.S. Open Playing Record

YEAR
SITE
SCORES
TO PAR
FINISH
2014
Pinehurst Resort & C.C. (Course No. 2)
72-71-75-75--293
+13
T-54
2013
Merion Golf Club
75-70-75-74--294
+13
T-41
2012
The Olympic Club (Lake Course)
76-70-70-73--289
+9
T-29
2010
Pebble Beach Golf Links
75-69-77-71--292
+8
T-16 (Low Amateur)

YEAR

2014

SITE

Pinehurst Resort & C.C. (Course No. 2)

SCORES

72-71-75-75--293

TO PAR

+13

FINISH

T-54

YEAR

2013

SITE

Merion Golf Club

SCORES

75-70-75-74--294

TO PAR

+13

FINISH

T-41

YEAR

2012

SITE

The Olympic Club (Lake Course)

SCORES

76-70-70-73--289

TO PAR

+9

FINISH

T-29

YEAR

2010

SITE

Pebble Beach Golf Links

SCORES

75-69-77-71--292

TO PAR

+8

FINISH

T-16 (Low Amateur)

Question: Do you remember your weekend pairings?

Langley: I don’t remember Saturday, but do remember playing with [2009 British Open champion] Stewart Cink on Sunday. Stewart and I had become friends after a few years out on tour, and it was fun playing with him. Father’s Day. He’s a dad and I was about to become one. My wife was pregnant at the time. Even though we didn’t play very well, we looked at each other on the 72nd hole and said that was a cool day.

Question: Speaking of Father’s Day, how cool is it to play the final round of the U.S. Open on this special day?

Langley: When you are inside the ropes and competing in the moment, you don’t have a lot of time to be sentimental. There are moments when you take a step back for sure and say, wow, that was really neat. It is such a cool tradition that we finish on Father’s Day. What the game means for so many families and dads and their children.

Question: What kind of advice would you give players, especially those qualifying for the first time, on playing the U.S. Open at Pinehurst?

Langley: Spend as much time on the golf course as much as you can because it’s a unique challenge. You don’t see green complexes like that very often in the States. We’re tasked with the responsibility of putting forth a complete test, so even though there is width off the tee at Pinehurst, there’s still enough going on out there that you will want to be in control of your driving. When you have a set of greens like you do at No. 2, it demands a lot out of your iron game and recovery shots around the greens. It’s a complete test.

Question: Now that you are a part of the administrative part of the U.S. Open, and have been removed from playing in the championship for 10 years, does it make what you achieved as a player that much more memorable?

Langley: My achievements in the U.S. Open may pale in comparison to a lot of players, but they mean a lot to me. I made the cut four times [out of four]. I qualified each time. That’s a good success rate in terms of making the cut. It’s an achievement I’m proud of because it’s a difficult championship to get into and play well in. It makes my work now that much more rewarding. Being on this side of the ropes and setting up the golf course and having a hand on how our national championship goes ... it’s work that I really enjoy.

Questions: Do you think memories from 2014 will flood your brain as you’re out with the team setting up Course No. 2?

Langley: It’s funny. I know I’m going to be so focused on nailing every single detail. I would envision in the future, as my [two] daughters come out to the U.S. Open more often, then more of that will occupy my head space, and walk with them on Sunday night of advance week, and show them spots where dad hit it. There will be a lot of those moments hopefully in our future.