I was saddened to hear that longtime Cypress Point PGA Professional Jim Langley, who was given the very rare honor of an honorary lifetime membership in the Club upon his retirement, passed away on July 20th. Mr. Langley touched nearly all of the greats of this game during his esteemed tenure, yet he also had the time for one very much not-so-great teenager, mainly myself, in the spring of 1987.
At that time I was a college freshman who took great liberties in inviting myself to play at the Olympic Club during spring break. Olympic was hosting the US Open later that year and their new assistant pro had just left an extended tenure at my old home course, the Pittsburgh Field Club. “Mongie” let me take over his living room sofa that entire week and set me up for a few rounds at Olympic, absolutely incredible.
For one of those rounds I was paired with a stately gentleman from the Pebble Beach area named Mr. Jim Langley, along with two of his sons, Brett and Brennon who were roughly my age, and though I was very much out of my league golfing-wise they went out of their way to make me feel welcome. It only took a hole or two to realize that this was “the” Mr. Jim Langley, the pro at Cypress Point, and though only 19 years old at the time I was well aware of the greatness of Cypress Point and had long gotten goose bumps just thinking of the possibility of playing there someday.
I had started researching and studying the most famous golf courses in the world when I was 12 years old and maybe a year after that, I wrote letters to the pros at many of the famous clubs asking for bag tags (and enclosing a dollar bill to pay for them!). I did get quite a few of them back, but I didn’t get one back from Cypress Point. However, what I did get was a handwritten letter from Mr. Jim Langley, the Pro at Cypress Point, thanking me for writing them and politely explaining that the bag tags there were for their members only. He also enclosed my dollar bill.
So, as I realized that I was now playing with Mr. Langley I became even more nervous. Not because I hoped or expected an invitation to Cypress Point, by that time I was aware enough that it’s not as simple to just invite some kid that you don’t even know to come play what is one of the handful of greatest and most private golf clubs in the world. Not that I would have turned down such an invitation obviously, but the reason I was nervous was because I really looked up to Club Pros when I was young, and Mr. Langley was to me, basically the Club Pro Nicklaus.
During the round, after I became more comfortable in the setting and the pairing, I shared the story of how I had written Mr. Langley 6 years back asking for a bag tag and how he had replied. Now Mr. Langley certainly must have had an awareness that virtually everyone he met would get it in the back of their minds that maybe someday he could get them on Cypress Point, and though he got a kick out of the story and even vaguely remembered it, he understandably followed it up with “now I would love to invite you to Cypress Point but unfortunately I can’t, because as you know it’s very private.” I said that I of course understood and it was nice actually to get that out of the way because I truly enjoyed all of the Langleys’ company that day and hopefully they knew that it wasn’t because I was angling for a round there.
I did get down to Pebble Beach later that week…after a long 6-hour Greyhound ride that stopped at every town on the Pacific Coast in between San Francisco and Monterey. I had booked a tee time, but arrived 3 hours late. I went in to the pro shop, explained what happened, they booked me in for the next morning and I was off to spend the night in Carmel. After getting settled, I decided to go walk on Pebble Beach and on the 7th tee a bunch of teenagers were coming up, carrying their bags. Turns out it was the Carmel High School Varsity Golf Team, and they were lead by Brennon Langley who I believe was a senior. I could not believe that their home course was Pebble Beach, incredible! I said hello and then went on to play Pebble Beach for the first time the following morning.
When I returned home, I penned a quick letter to Mr. Langley just to thank him for the company at Olympic and to share how much I enjoyed the day. To my great delight, I received a note back from him along with something “extra”, which I’m sure I still have to this day somewhere in the archives. Yes, I received my Cypress Point Club bag tag.
Flash forward to either September of 1992 or May of 1994 (my first two visits to Ireland but I can’t remember which one) and I am at Royal County Down in Ireland, playing there for the first or second time. I was talking to the pro outside the pro shop and he noticed my Cypress Point bag tag which was proudly affixed to my bag. “Are you a member at Cypress?” “No, but I played with the pro a few years ago and he sent me this tag.” “He was here just this morning!” Turns out Mr. Langley was on a trip to Ireland himself at the same time and I arrived at the club at just about the time he was finishing an early round, and just missed him.
It was during that conversation with the Royal County Down pro though that I found out about the horrible accident Mr. Langley had endured just a few months after our round at Olympic, one that left him without the use of his right arm. It was terrible news. “But you’ll never guess what he shot today” he said. “You mean, he still played?” I asked, having assumed that he must have just walked the course. “Yep, he plays with his left arm only, and he shot 88.”
I did not break 88 that afternoon. Rest in peace Mr. Langley and my sincere condolences go out to the Langley family and all who mourn his loss.