Goodbye, Pebble . . . Hello, Palmer Cup

Scott Langley and Russell Henley after the final round of the U.S. Open.

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – How did Scott Langley and Russell Henley celebrate their memorable performances at the U.S. Open? By hopping onto a flight Monday morning bound for Northern Ireland, where they were scheduled to join their U.S. Palmer Cup teammates in college golf’s version of the Ryder Cup.

From Pebble Beach to Royal Portrush. That’s a stretch that would make any golfer jealous. Royal Portrush, designed in 1888 by Harry S. Colt, is ranked third in Golfweek’s Best Courses of Great Britain & Ireland. It trails only the Old Course at St. Andrews and Royal County Down, the site of the 2007 Walker Cup.

Portrush, Northern Ireland, also is the hometown of U.S. Open champ Graeme McDowell.

Langley was a late addition to the Palmer Cup team. He was added to the roster when Wichita State’s Dustin Garza accepted an invitation to make his PGA Tour debut at this week’s Travelers Championship.

Illinois’ Langley, the NCAA champ, and Georgia’s Henley, Golfweek’s College Player of the Year, tied for 16th at last week’s U.S. Open. They posted the best finishes by an amateur at the Open since Spencer Levin tied for 13th at Shinnecock in 2004. It also was the first time two amateurs finished in the top 20 since 1975.

After they completed play, Langley and Henley stood next to each other in a large crowd behind the 18th green. They craned their necks, stood on their tippy-toes and jumped up and down, attempting to see McDowell putt out on the final green. Their enthusiasm illustrated why the amateurs always make for a refreshing storyline at the U.S. Open, especially when they play well and beat the guys who are paid to play.

Henley and Langley quickly became fan favorites at Pebble Beach, as much for their good play as their interactions with the fans. They acknowledge most cheers with at least a wave and a smile.

“I just wanted to make (the fans) cheer,” Henley said. “It wasn’t really about me playing well. It was about them having a good time, and I tried to make that happen.”

It also was nice to see the collegians get national recognition. Langley and Henley were standout juniors but not stars. They’ve steadily improved each year in college, finally reaching the pinnacle of the college game this season. Both were second-team All-Americans last year, and first-teamers this year. Both players will be seniors next season.

For being first-teamers, Langley and Henley earned invitations to the Nationwide Tour’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational on July 22-25 at Ohio State’s Scarlet Course. Don’t be surprised to see Henley and Langley do well there. Amateurs have a good record there – Daniel Summerhays won in 2007, and Rickie Fowler lost a playoff last year.

The Palmer Cup likely won’t be the last time Langley and Henley will be teammates. Their recent success has made them early favorites to be named to the 2011 U.S. Walker Cup team.

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