Friday, May 31, 2002

In true Kemper tradition, little-known Langham rolls

1st-round leader upstages big names, ties course record

The Associated Press

        POTOMAC, Md. — The gallery should have known better.

        Sure, Greg Norman gave the crowd at the TPC at Avenel a thrill when he pulled out his 3-wood, skirted the trees and reached the green with a risky shot on the par-5 6th. He had a smile on his face when he finished a 4-under-par 67.

        But this is the Kemper Open, where the marquee names nearly always get upstaged. Sure enough, Norman and everyone else were soon eclipsed by Franklin Langham, whose tiny following watched him come within two nearly missed birdie putts of setting a course record Thursday.

        After his last birdie putt rolled past the hole by an inch or two, Langham tapped in and settled for tying the course mark with an 8-under 63 that gave him a two-stroke lead after the opening round.

        “It was one of those days you dream about,” said Langham, who is seeking to become the Kemper's fourth consecutive first-time PGA Tour winner. “I drove it good, as good as I've ever driven it. My iron game complimented my driving the ball, and I made enough made putts to shoot 8-under.”

        Bob Estes shot a 65, while Chris DiMarco, Brian Watts, Jay Williamson, Willie Wood and Brian Gay were another shot back. Norman was four off the pace.

        Langham perfectly fits the typical Kemper winner's profile. Not only has he never won on the tour, but he had to play the first part of this year on a medical exemption after major elbow surgery that had him in rehab from October through February.

        Langham said his elbow muscles got so small during his layoff that he “could see all the bones” sticking out.

        “There were times I was scared,” Langham said. “I never got to the point where I said I'm not playing again, but I was definitely scared. It hurt so bad from the stuff I did, like, "How am I ever going to grip a club again?' But I was real determined to do it.”

        Langham's 63 also ties his personal tour best. He has had three career second-place finishes, including a tie for second at the Kemper two years ago, but he's finished in the top 75 on the money list once.

        This year, he's made the cut twice in six events. He's not nearly as obscure as 1999 Kemper winner Rich Beem, but it's worth noting that Langham's gallery during the first half of his round essentially consisted of just five friends. He started drawing a small crowd over his final few holes, but enough only to create a smattering of applause as he approached his last green.

        Langham said there's less pressure when the crowds are thin, but he said he'll be ready if he's suddenly becomes the people's choice.

        “It's just, as they say, part of the territory,” he said.

        LPGA: Maybe Karrie Webb can sample of little of what the Chicago area has to offer this time.

        She was a little busy during her last visit.

        Webb is playing in the inaugural Kellogg-Keebler Classic starting today in Aurora, Ill., a western Chicago suburb. It's the first regular stop on the LPGA tour in the area since 1994 and the first big-time women's pro event since the 2000 U.S. Open, which Webb won at the Merit Club in Gurnee, Ill.

        “When you play a U.S. Open, you don't get to see a whole lot,” Webb said. “I saw the hotel, the golf course and a couple of restaurants. I was actually hoping the Cubs were in town this week, but they're not.”

        The Cubs do return home for a weekend series, but Webb will be busy again, trying to win for the first time this year. In five starts in 2002, Webb's best finish has been a tie for fifth, a stark contrast to her first six years on the tour.

        Webb won five majors and 21 other tournaments in that period. In 1999 and 2000, the Australian was as dominant on the women's tour as Tiger Woods on the men's side. She won two majors last year. Now she's trying to regain that form.

        “It feels good to be back here,” Webb said. “I've had a couple of weeks off, but I have had a couple of good days (of practice) and I feel good about my game. Hopefully, I'll take that into the week.


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- In true Kemper tradition, little-known Langham rolls
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