Originally created 04/23/98

Local golfers soldiering on amid unknowns



GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Amid the Budweiser Beer School semis, the free samples of DiGiorno's pizza and the inflatable Ronald McDonald outside the Forest Oaks Country Club clubhouse sit this week's golf hopes for Franklin Langham and Hugh Royer III.

In golf, a sport where the lowest score wins, Langham and Royer stand at the bottom of a pretty high PGA Tour totem pole, two Augusta-area natives trying to secure a living as golfing vagabonds.

"One of these days, it's going to come together," said Royer, an 11-year pro who maintains his residence in Aiken. "And when it does, look out."

"Just keep your head on straight and keep plowing away," said Langham, the Augusta native now residing in Peachtree City.

There are 156 players entered in this year's Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic, the majority of whom are career minor leaguers, a cast of unknowns looking to reap the riches and earn a coveted Masters invite for next year with a breakthrough win.

Where Mark O'Meara and Phil Mickelson represent the PGA's glorious side, Langham and Royer tout the arduous, teeing up week after week, hoping to hit enough fairways, hold enough greens and roll in enough putts to keep their playing privileges.

This is the life of a struggling-to-survive pro. Royer is 34, and in seven starts this year, has earned three checks ($19,153 total), his best coming in February when he tied for 27th at Hawaii.

Unless the golfing gods bless Royer with incredible shotmaking the next few days or months, he appears headed back to Qualifying School, a six-day tournament that awards playing cards to the top 40 finishers.

Royer went through Q-School in December after collecting a little more than $23,000 in 33 starts in 1997. That's mucho effort for little dinero. At Q-School, he finished 15th, granting him his third PGA opportunity of his career.

"It's something you try not to think about, but in the back of your mind you know it's there," he said. "You try just to worry about playing better each week, trying to make good swings and good shots. If you think about the other things, that's when you're going to struggle."

But when Royer looks at this week's weak field and finds a bunch of others hovering in similar predicaments, it's a lot easier for him to be comfortable. He doesn't have to keep up with Tiger or Davis or Ernie; they're all vacationing.

So he's allowed to dream a little, thinking that maybe this could be the week when the six-figure paycheck says "Hugh Royer III" on it, or when he collects a paycheck to better his card prospects.

"No matter who's in the field, you've still got to shoot the scores," Royer said. "To say that because the field is weak that I should do better, well, there are a lot of guys here who probably think that way."

One is Langham, 29, who turned pro in 1991 after leaving Georgia as an All-American. He finished sixth at Q-School for his second Tour spot.

But college credentials and 50 cents will buy you a cup of coffee here, and that's only if there's no sales tax.

Langham's season started like an angry director: cut, cut, cut, cut, cut. He did shoot three rounds under par at New Orleans two weeks ago, good enough for a tie for 19th and a nifty $18,488 check, his second-best finish ever.

"It's frustrating because you're out here against the greatest golfers in the world and you're thrown to the wolves," Langham said. "I keep telling myself to hang in there. That everyone out here has been a rookie at some time."

A rookie and a vet, both looking for some luck.