With the announcement late Sunday night of the remaining spots on the 2011 U.S. Walker Cup team, the brief but brilliant amateur career of St. Louisan Scott Langley ended a few weeks earlier than he had hoped.
Despite a solid rally at the U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills, that included a magnificent 63 on the second day of stroke play, Langley could not erase in the USGA committee’s mind the struggle that has characterized much of his 2011 year.
Langley will look to the fall, as a professional for the first time, as he pursues a career in tournament golf. He leaves behind a list of accomplishments that places him among the elite in St. Louis golf history. His stretch of golf from late May through June in 2010 may be the most dominant in St. Louis Amateur golf history.
As Langley looks to his professional career, and the eventual destination of the PGA Tour, he does so with the best credentials any St. Louis amateur has ever assembled — and equal to those of Jay Haas had when he crossed over to the professional ranks.
Some will say the quality of talent at the top of the professional ranks today compares unfavorably to the mid-‘70’s of Haas’ rookie year (count me in that group). No one would challenge the breadth of talent today in professional golf is greater than ever before. Winning may still be as difficult on the PGA Tour as then, but getting there is a far steeper hill to climb.
One could argue that making it to the PGA Tour, as Langley one day hopes to do, is an attempt to join the most elite club in all of professional sports. Nearly 1700 players will fill out NFL rosters this fall. Major League Baseball counts their ranks in excess of 700. The NHL sends more than 600 over the boards each year, and even the NBA, with the smallest team rosters, totals more than 300.
The PGA Tour admits only 125 players annually to the all-exempt list and fills in the remaining spots in the fields with roughly 30 semi-regulars. Just to crack that bottom of the pack list a player needs to survive three stages of qualifying, bettering hundreds of dreamers each year and enduring the most stressful tournament at any level, the final qualifying tournament. Tour School, as it is inappropriately known, is not a classroom but a torture chamber, which for most is not a Field of Dreams but a week of Failed Dreams.
Even if Langley should successfully survive against a now world of players with the same ambitions — and in most cases the same talent — he will only have a one year pass to ride the bus unless he proves to be better than some of those top 125. Golf has no guaranteed contracts. There is no arbitration process after mediocre seasons.
Tiger Woods has won more than 70 times in his career but that didn’t get him into the FedEx series. He has fourteen majors on his shelf and he likely will miss next year’s WGC Match Play Championship and probably Doral. You don’t get traded, waived or picked up as a free agent if you don’t perform in golf. You just have to find somewhere else to play.
What Langley showed a year ago in his season of amateur glory is he has the package of skills to compete on golf’s biggest stage. What he showed at Erin Hills is he may have the resiliency and drive to overcome the inevitable lows that are part of the game. He climbed the ranks of the Big Ten in four years at the University of Illinois. He climbed to 5th in the world a summer ago. He has shown he can climb, which is important, because a career in professional golf is about constantly climbing and realizing there is, for almost all, no top.
Dan Reardon is Golf Editor at KMOX. He can be heard throughout the week on America’s Sports Voice.