TOUR Insider: The ultimate meritocracy proves worth again

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January 16, 2013

By Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

Russell Henley's life has changed. He is the PGA TOUR's latest millionaire, $1,008,000 richer to be exact.

You would not know it from observing him Sunday night at the Honolulu airport.

As the tourists rushed to make their flights, very few noticed the young man with the blonde hair who sat by himself in the airport restaurant.

Russell Henley had just won the Sony Open and was still basking in the glow of success but he was doing so anonymously. Henley sat by himself, at a table for two, with a huge smile on his face.

As fellow PGA TOUR members passed by, they would do a double take and return to offer congratulations. Jeff Overton stopped to chat and Davis Love III gave Henley some advice, “Remember the Nick Saban rule, enjoy it for 24 hours and then move on.”

Henley was offering to buy drinks or dinner for any takers but everyone was rushing to make flights to the mainland.

So Henley sat and reflected on a life that had abruptly changed about three hours ago.

He had traveled by himself to Hawaii. No family made the trip to the Islands. The girlfriend stayed back home.

Celebrations would certainly follow but for this evening, it was just him.

There were the congratulatory phone calls back home to his brother, to his parents and to his girlfriend.

(I advised him to tell all three they were the first one he called. Everyone wants to be No. 1.)

A year ago, Henley was struggling to get into Web.com events. Two years ago he was a college kid, scraping up money to take his date to the movies.

Now he's a millionaire.

That is what makes the PGA TOUR such a wonderful season long story. It's the greatest meritocracy in the world.

Everything is possible but nothing is guaranteed.

In other sports, the players are working off guaranteed salaries. When a baseball player goes 0-4, he still makes money. When a golfer makes four bogeys in a row, he goes home having lost money for the week.

Henley is the first surprise story of 2013 on the PGA TOUR and many more will follow. There may be one in the making at Palm Springs this week.

So if you are in the airport Sunday night take special notice of anyone sitting by himself offering to buy drinks and dinner. He just might be the PGA TOUR's newest millionaire.

It can happen any week.

Observations

Changes: Did any tournament do a better job re-inventing itself than Humana last season? The new sponsor invigorated the entire event, stressing a healthy lifestyle. President Clinton brings a “wow” factor to the tournament, which was looking a little tired. This week has regained its slot as a premier west coast event drawing large galleries and a quality field.

Presidential: Agree or disagree with his politics, President Clinton has charisma. It's apparent with players who interrupt rounds to shake his hand. It's apparent with sponsors who want to be associated with him and it's apparent with the gallery who position themselves to get a glimpse of the 42nd President. With Clinton's slim-line physique, combined with his love of the game, he is the perfect tournament host for Humana.

Rookies: The entire West Coast Swing is a tough haul for PGA TOUR rookies. Not only are they learning life on TOUR, they have to learn multiple courses. Veterans are familiar with the trio of courses this week and both tracks at Torrey Pines. For the rookies, they have to learn not one but several different courses in a short period of time. Morgan Hoffmann planned ahead. He made a West Coast trip to become familiar with the multiple courses this week and next along with those on Monterey.

Winner, winner: Brandt Snedeker had a great start in Hawaii, took a week off and should be a winner at Humana. We all know about his putting, Snedeker led the TOUR in strokes gained-putting in 2012, but he showed up at Maui with improved iron play. Snedeker hit better than 85 percent of his greens in regulation at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. When you give him lots of opportunities, Snedeker makes lots of birdies and that's the formula to win in Palm Springs.

For the season: One win, Dustin Johnson, Hyundai Tournament of Champions. One Top 50, Keegan Bradley, Sony Open in Hawaii.

Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here.

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