LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Franklin Langham remembers his roots.
Learning the game at Belle Meade in Thomson. Playing the junior circuit around the Augusta area. Earning All-America honors at the University of Georgia.
When Langham tees off today at Valhalla Golf Club in the 82nd PGA Championship, he'll be playing in his first professional major. But for Langham, he's trying to treat it as just another week on the PGA Tour.
"Tell the folks back home I said hello," Langham said Tuesday, shortly after finishing a practice round in sweltering heat. It's no surprise that Langham takes ample time after the round to sign autographs as he makes his way to the comfort of the air-conditioned clubhouse.
It would be easy for the 32-year-old Langham to forget about the past and enjoy his most successful season since turning pro. Already this year, he has placed second three times, earned more than a million dollars, and has quietly moved up on the Ryder Cup points list. His World Golf Ranking has dramatically improved, jumping from No. 181 at the end of 1999 to No. 71. He's also put himself in position to play in his first Masters Tournament next spring.
"I've got myself in good position to finish off the year," Langham said. "The top 30 (on the money list) will open a lot of doors, get me in the Tour Championship."
Right now, Langham is 22nd on the money list with $1,104,328 in 19 starts. With roughly 10 events left before the season-ending Tour Championship, he is in a comfortable position, something Langham is not accustomed to.
After turning pro in 1992, Langham enjoyed modest success on the Nike Tour, winning once (the 1993 Permian Basin Open in Texas) in three years. By finishing fourth on the Nike money list in 1995, Langham earned a chance to play in golf's big league: the PGA Tour.
Success was tough to come by. Langham won only $83,632 in 33 events in 1996 and had to return to the Nike Tour the following year.
After a so-so Nike campaign, Langham regained his Tour card by finishing sixth in the 1997 Qualifying Tournament. He's been there ever since.
He barely kept his card in 1998, ranking 117th on the money list. Then, in 1999, he broke through, winning more than $500,000 to solidify his place on Tour.
After missing cuts in the first three events this season, Langham's fortunes started to improve. He made cuts in Los Angeles and Tucson, then came to Miami for the Doral Ryder Open. Rounds of 66, 63 and 68 put him in position to win his first PGA Tour event. A solid front nine on that Sunday in March further solidified his position.
Then a not-so-funny thing happened on the way to the winner's circle. Jim Furyk got hot, scorched the back nine at Doral, and left Langham as runner-up.
Looking back, Langham concedes that the desire to win is very strong. But he doesn't want to lose sight of all that he's accomplished this year.
"Eventually my goal is to win," Langham said. "I want to win one more than anything."
Two more second-place finishes have been recorded since March, at the Greater Milwaukee Open and the Kemper Open. His last outing was two weeks ago at The International, where he finished tied for 24th.
"I'm playing good. I'm hitting the ball well," Langham said. "I'm trying to keep the hands off the steering wheel, not get too far ahead of myself."
In his first major, Langham is trying to remember what got him here. A take it one day at a time, one shot at a time approach is in order.
"It's an elite field. (But) It's still golf," he said. "Same clubs, same ball. You've got to approach it that way. You've got to play that way."
Langham, who now lives in Peachtree City, tries to be low key when discussing some of the rewards available if he maintains his current position on the money list. His parents live just up Interstate 20 at Reynolds Plantation, so making the Masters would be a big deal for the Langhams.
"I should be OK," said Langham, who worked on the leaderboard at Augusta National when he was in high school. "Top 40 should get me in there. It all depends on who plays well coming down the stretch."
Another reward in the offing for Langham is a chance to play on the Ryder Cup team next fall when the matches are held at The Belfry in Sutton Coldfield, England. Currently Langham is 15th in the Ryder Cup points standings. The top 10 in points make the team, and U.S. Captian Curtis Strange will make two wild-card picks.
"I've got a good amount of points. It's a two-year thing," said Langham, who teamed with Phil Mickelson, David Duval and others on the victorious 1991 Walker Cup squad. "I just want to keep doing the same things I've been doing."
The Presidents Cup team will be finalized Monday, but Langham doesn't figure to be in the running for that team. The top 10 money winners from the United States, dating back to the start of the 1999 season, are automatically chosen. Captain Ken Venturi will pick two other players to round out the U.S. squad, which will take on the international team in October at Lake Manassas, Va.
Turning in a strong performance at the PGA is more important for Langham than worrying about team competitions.
"I'm playing so well I don't want to short myself," he said. "Coming into the back nine Sunday, if I've got a chance to win, that will be my goal."
Reach John Boyette at (706) 823-3337 or email@example.com.
Family: Married to Ashley; two children
Residence: Peachtree City, Ga.
World Golf Ranking: 71
PGA Tour Money Ranking: 22 with $1,104,328
Best finish: Second three times in 2000
Scoring average: 70.71
Eventscuts made: 11 of 19