Lang searches for the calm to secure 4th USGA title

Lang searches for the calm to secure 4th USGA title

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Lang searches for the calm to secure 4th USGA title

SEBRING, Fla. – Diane Lang sometimes gets up in the middle of the night and swings a golf club in her bathroom. She claims to own every instructional aid that’s advertised on TV.

Show her a list of top-100 instructors and she’s been to 50 of them. Plus another 50 not on the list.

Lang, a three-time U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur champion, is 60 and still searching.

“I thought I was looking for an answer, but I think it’s right there inside of you,” she said, patting her chest.

One of the charming things about the Harder Hall Invitational is that college and junior players compete alongside decorated seniors like Lang. The grand dame of them all, Carol Semple Thompson, chairs the event and still competes.

Lang posted a frustrating 83 in the first round on a sunny, crisp Wednesday. The old Lang might have holed up in her hotel room and camped on the range for the rest of the week, hyper-focused on beating as many players as possible.

But since Lang’s game started going south several years ago, she has come to appreciate the other side of competition – socializing.

“Like last night she was at the party,” said longtime friend Taffy Brower. “She would’ve never been here (before). It’s really wonderful having her around.”

Lang, who used to abhor social rounds, now adores them. She picked up two friends from Guatemala before the start of the event and took them to her club, Weston Hills, and then on to Mountain Lake, the exclusive gem located in nearby Lake Wales, Fla.

“When I have played so badly, they have saved my life,” Lang said of her friends.

Lang grew up in Jamaica, an island known for its speed, but learned to play golf at a young age from her father, Eddie Aris, a top tennis player in the Caribbean who competed in the Davis Cup.

College sports didn’t exist in Jamaica and she was enrolled in university there when a friend who had moved to Florida called and asked if she’d like to play golf on a scholarship at Florida Atlantic. A 20-year-old Lang told her friend to hold on and shouted out to her mom, asking if she could move to Boca Raton, Fla., to play on the school’s inaugural women’s golf team.

Mom said OK, and she told the coach her average scores and got on a plane.

“I didn’t even have to swing a golf club,” she marveled.

After FAU, Lang played on mini tours before qualifying for the LPGA on her first attempt in 1984. She was 28 years old and a newlywed.

When the last tournament came around in White Plains, N.Y., it was a no-cut event played on three different courses. Because everyone in the field was guaranteed a check, Lang could’ve finished last and still kept her card.

Only she got lost on the way to the golf course and was DQ’d for missing her tee time.

She went back to the mini tour and then, at the urging of European players like Laura Davies, set off to play on the Ladies European Tour for nine weeks.

Lang’s husband Jeff joined her for tournaments in Paris and Portugal, but when the couple arrived in Portugal, immigration officers took her to a room and told her she needed a visa to get in the country. She had two choices, go to jail or get back on a plane.

The couple opted for No. 2, missed the event and went out for a fun evening to blow off steam. That was the night their first child was conceived, and Lang quit playing golf for the next 16 years. She raised two kids and sold real estate while her clubs collected dust.

When Lang returned to the game in 2002, she fell in love all over again and, remarkably, never missed a beat. She won the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur in 2005, ’06 and ’08 and had a match play record of 22-1 in that four-year stretch.

“I didn’t think anybody could beat me,” said Lang. “I just wanted to see if I could beat the cover off the ball. Now I just try to guide it.”

Lang is a competitor to her core, which stands in stark contrast to the rest of the family. No one else plays golf. And any games they do play are strictly for fun. It’s a language Lang can’t comprehend.

“When (the kids) were little and we were playing tiddlywinks at 5, I was playing to beat them,” she said. “I said, ‘Play hard.’”

Lang won all three of her USGA titles using a long putter. On Jan. 1, 2014, she put that putter away and tried a conventional length. Then at the Senior Am, she had eight three-putts in the second round of stroke-play qualifying and shot 88.

“I came home and went in the garage and pulled out my long-lost friend,” she said. “I’ve got one more year. When they say short, I’ll have to figure it out at that time.”

The biggest obstacle right now is the tee shot. Lang’s draw turned into a hook and when she tries to guard against it, the resulting push goes two fairways right. It’s a paralyzing fear, missing shots both ways. But there’s progress.

Lang hopes to return to winning form by year’s end. She’s had 12 lessons from her club’s new instructor and is optimistic. The goal is to win a fourth Senior Amateur title with a calmer approach.

“I know I can do it,” she said, “if I can just free my mind.”

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