Rookie Langley leads Sony Open

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HONOLULU – Scott Langley took a quick tour of the Sony Open media center on Wednesday, prior to the opening round. He met some of the ink-stained wretches, introduced himself, shook a few hands and gave a bunch of interviews. It wasn’t anything too formal, just a little get-to-know-you session for a rookie who doesn’t have much experience at the PGA Tour level.

One day later, he was back in the very same spot. This time, everyone knew his name.

That’s because Langley’s name is the one atop the leaderboard after 18 holes, thanks to an 8-under 62 in his first round of his first season.

“What happened?” he asked with a mock stagger. “I just blacked out.”

He was kidding, of course, but just in case he needed a reminder the highlights were still airing on a nearby TV. They included an eagle and six birdies on a flawless card, part of a day that showed an astounding 198 feet of made putts.

He may be a PGA Tour freshman, but Langley is no stranger to the big stage. He was the NCAA individual champion at the University of Illinois, represented the United States in the Palmer Cup and tied for low amateur with a T-16 finish at the U.S. Open, only to follow that with a T-29 in the same event last year.

And yet, at this time last year he was struggling on the Hooters Tour, fresh off a Q-School second stage flameout that landed him in the nether regions of golf’s professional level.

All of which begs the question: In such a mental pursuit like this, where confidence is at a premium, how was Langley able to channel enough of it to lead his 143 fellow competitors Thursday night?

The answer is that it emanates from a few different places in a few different ways.

He credits his instructors for instilling that attitude in him from a young age, when he would spend his winters in St. Louis hitting off artificial turf in heated bays at a place called the Family Golf Center, all the way to his four years playing for Illinois head coach Mike Small.

“Coach Small taught me how to be a competitor,” he said. “He was a big influence on us, and certainly instilled a lot of competitive aspects in me that I didn’t have before I went to school.”

There were his living arrangements last year. After moving to Florida, he needed a place to live and Rickie Fowler’s offered a room in his house, where he lived with fellow pros Cameron Tringale and Morgan Hoffmann.

“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,” he explained. “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.”

And perhaps by a divine bit of inspiration, there was his opening-round grouping, which included Luke Guthrie and Russell Henley. Langley has been friends with Guthrie “since middle school” and roomed with him when the two attended Illinois; he became fast friends with Henley after they were co-medalists at that U.S. Open three years ago, then flew to the Palmer Cup together directly afterward.

In fact, exactly one year ago it was Henley whom Langley leaned on during a Hooters Tour event – and vice versa.

“He had just missed the cut; I barely made the cut,” Langley said. “We were on the range trying to help each other find it. [On Thursday] we were just walking up 16, you could see the ocean behind, the PGA Tour signs everywhere. We 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.”

As if to confirm that sentiment, Henley himself posted a 63 in the opening round, in sole possession of second place behind his buddy and playing partner.

Looking ahead to Friday, Langley maintained that he’s confident without being overconfident, happy without being too happy.

When it’s joked that he hasn’t yet failed to make his way into the media center’s interview room in his PGA Tour career, a broad smile comes across his face, joined by a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders.

“That’s OK,” Langley said. “I can get used to this.”