Former Duke golfer Brittany Lang and big-time golf have always been synonymous. She has always been the type of athlete who brought her best game to championship play.
And the U.S. Women’s Open is one of those venues where the world’s 44th-ranked player really likes to shine.
In her first visit to the U.S. Open in 2005, as an amateur and a sophomore on the Duke golf team, Lang almost pulled off the remarkable feat of winning the championship, missing by two strokes and coming in second place at Cherry Hills Country Club located outside Denver.
Since that time she has had a very successful run at these national championship events, coming in fifth in 2010, 21st in 2012 and this year placing seventh at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y.
“I have a good game for the Open,” explained Lang, the ninth highest-ranked American player in the world rankings. “The U.S. Open courses are set up a little tougher than the LPGA Tour courses we play, and I love a challenge. I feel that when the course is tougher, then I have an advantage.”
Lang actually relishes that challenge, playing her best on the big stage, finishing in the top 25 of a major championship 21 times in her career, including a second-place finish at the 2011 Women’s British Open and four top 20 finishes in the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
Lang began playing the game when she was nine years old, when her father first placed a club in her hand.
“I just fell in love with golf right away,” she explained. “I just felt very calm and peaceful at golf courses and still to this day I love practicing. I love being on the golf course.”
Early in her career there was evidence that she had a gift for the game. She achieved success on the American Junior Golf Association circuit, capturing eight AJGA events, and was a two-time first-team Polo Golf Junior All-American in 2001 and 2002. Lang won the North and South Women’s Amateur and the Women’s Western Amateur Championship in consecutive weeks. She also won the 2004 Trans National Amateur title.
As a Blue Devil she won six collegiate tournaments, including back-to-back ACC individual titles (2004-05). She was the ACC and national freshman of the year in ‘04, then the ACC player of the year in ’05. Lang also was a member of the victorious 2004 U.S. Curtis Cup Team and won medalist honors at the Women’s Amateur Public Links before advancing to the quarterfinals of match play.
She got her first taste of the LPGA when she competed on a sponsor exemption in both the 2005 Kraft Nabisco Championship and the LPGA Corning Classic, where she tied for 15th. After two years as a Blue Devil she knew it was time to move on and start playing professional golf.
“I just got to thinking, ‘I’ve won six times in college and I’ve played very well out on the Tour and that ultimately was what I wanted to do my whole life,’” Lang said of turning pro. “So I was like ‘Why not go now?’ The only way to get better out there is going out there and learning to do it.”
For six years, Lang worked on the LPGA Tour to get a tour win. She played well, winning money and the admiration of her fellow players, but she just couldn’t come home with the trophy.
With six runnerup finishes on the big stage, Lang knew something just wasn’t clicking and quick fixes to her golf swing weren’t the solution to finally stepping in the winner’s circle. Thus began a quest to change her mental game and finally, on a hot day in late June of last year, her swing and her attitude were in sync enough to vault her to that first LPGA victory.
Lang notched her first victory at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic in her 154th start as an LPGA player. She rolled in a short birdie putt on the third playoff hole to capture the win over Hee Kyung Seo, Chella Choi and third round leader Inbee Park at the Grey Silo Golf Course in Ontario, Canada.
Lang’s patience and strong work ethic had finally paid off.
“It took me some time,” Lang said of her first win, where she put together rounds of 69-65-67-67. “It took me a lot of years and a lot of second-place finishes to learn what it took. I’m still learning, you know. I’ve only won once. But I know that week in Canada I was in every shot and I wasn’t worried about what place I was in or anything like that.
“I had been so close many times but didn’t make it,” she added. “I’m a very positive, fun person so I just went out and had fun with it. When I got back home to McKinney (Tex.), it finally sank in. When I was with my family and friends, it sank in that I had finally done it.”
Lang carries the family support on the course as well with her brother Luke serving as her caddie. Luke was an all-conference golfer at Arkansas Tech in 2003.
“It’s an absolute blessing to have Luke on my bag,” said Lang, who after living in Florida has moved back home to McKinney. “He’s a good brother, he’s a good golfer and he’s a good caddy. We have so much fun. He’s really perceptive and really good at picking up on what I need to work on.
“He does a good job as a caddy and has learned a lot, like what shots to take and when. I really feel like he is one of the best caddies out there without question. To always have family on the bag when you’re having a tough time or to celebrate in the good times, it’s just such a blessing to have him on the bag. We have so much fun.”
That win also gave her the first LPGA Tour win by a Duke women’s golfer in the history of one of collegiate golf’s most successful programs.
“It has always blown my mind that we haven’t won more tournaments,” said Lang. “It has also been interesting to me that girls from Duke don’t have longer careers out here on the tour. There has been so much talent on the Duke teams for years that it is amazing I was the first to win an LPGA event.”
Jean Bartholomew, a 1989 Duke grad, is the most experienced former Blue Devil golfer having played professionally since 1990 on the European Ladies Tour, the Japan LPGA and the LPGA Tour. While Bartholomew is the most experienced, Lang is the biggest winner having won over $4 million so far in her eight-year career.
“It’s different out here,” explained Lang, who has been a member of the United States team in two Solheim Cups. “You have to get used to the travel and the competition is tougher than in college. The girls are just better. You have to really work and want to get better to stay on the tour.”
Lang has worked hard to stay in top physical shape and continues to improve her game on the course as well.
“I’ve never really had a ton of coaching,” she said. “I’ve always been a pretty natural athlete but with a little help here and there. I had become very technical on the course in my early years on the tour. A couple years ago I started getting back to the basics of golf, just basic practice, simple flow and just having more fun out there. I developed a basic, simple, fun mentality. It really helped me to relax.”
On April 27 of this year, Lang may well have had her best day on the golf course. Despite the fact that she missed the 54-hole cut at the North Texas LPGA Shootout, she received a wonderful surprise as her boyfriend of the past 11 months, Kevin Spann, came out to the ninth green, her final hole of the day, and dropped to one knee asking for her hand in marriage. He told his future wife that he wanted to watch her play golf for the rest of her life.
Lang said yes.
“We’ve been together about 11 months,” she explained. “We met at the club that we play at, and it’s been going very well. I had a few ideas (this might be coming) because he’s been acting a little strange.”
The couple has set January 11, 2014 as their wedding day.