Russell Henley has just one bogey through 36 holes at Waialae. (Petersen/Getty Images)
Check out these facts before the third round of the Sony Open: Russell Henley has fired 70 or better in each of his last 14 professional rounds. His worst finish in his last four starts? A tie for sixth.
The talented Georgia alum, still only 23, secured his PGA TOUR card with one of the best closing stretches in Web.com Tour history. He won the Chiquita Classic in a playoff, finished third in the Miccosukee Championship, and then won the Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open in playoff.
The victory in Jacksonville -- at TPC Sawgrass' Dye's Valley Course -- is a major indicator to his success this week in the Sony Open. Henley closed with a 65 on one of the toughest courses on the tour -- on an unforgiving track that punishes any drive hit off-line.
Shooting a pair of 63s in his PGA TOUR member debut in the Sony Open? Henley is just picking up where he left off last year.
It wasn't always this easy. This time a year ago, he was struggling so badly that he didn't know what to do. He began the year on the Web.com Tour, but was missing cuts left and right. Twice, he almost failed to even break 80.
Then, he got an assist from Webb Simpson.
Henley started playing golf with Simpson at Quail Hollow, and it was there that he hooked up with an assistant pro there named Charles Frost. The pair put in some serious work over the summer, and the results started showing.
"My off weeks I got a lot of good, quality rounds in, and after learning a little bit more about course management," Henley said. "I definitely know what didn't work, [and] I started to build some confidence."
By the time July 2012 rolled around, Henley was on track. He put together a couple of top-10s, and all but secured his card with a runner-up finish in August. With a lot of the pressure gone, Henley went on a tear that continues to the present day.
"It's pretty surreal. I remember I got my card -- and my family was there -- and it was just kind of like, 'Wow, I just got my PGA TOUR card,'" Henley said. "It's so hard. The chances are pretty -- not in your favor to get out here, and I was just like, wow, this is amazing."
Now, Henley has a shot to lock up his card for a lot longer than the 2013 season. He can become the first player since Bruce Lietzke (1977) to win the Sony Open in his first attempt. He will be playing Saturday with good friend Scott Langley -- a q-school grad who is only two shots back of him -- and two-time TOUR winner Scott Piercy. With the wind calm, Henley knows he can't let up an inch at birdie-filled Waialae.
"The sky's the limit honestly on the weekend if somebody gets hot," Henley said.
Scott Langley and Russell Henley were stellar in their debuts as TOUR pros. (Getty Images, PGA TOUR)
By Ann Miller, for PGATOUR.COM
HONOLULU — The rookie class of 2013 came barging in Thursday at the Sony Open in Hawaii.
Scott Langley made his first round as a PGA TOUR member memorable, firing an 8-under 62 to take the lead in the first full-field event of the year.
Russell Henley, another rookie, is one shot back and 14 of the 23 rookies at Waialae Country Club are in the top 44.
Henley and Langley played in the same group, with Luke Guthrie, Langley’s teammate and roommate at the University of Illinois. In two weeks, all three will be 23.
The three rookies, who met in middle school, will remember Thursday when they are 103.
“I think there was a lot of nerves for me the first few holes,” said Henley, “and I think playing with Scotty and Luke was huge for me, and watching them play well kind of gave me a goal to try to keep up with them, so it was definitely fun feeding off them.”
Henley won a 2011 Web.com Tour event as an amateur, a week before he graduated from Georgia. He won twice more last year, finishing third on the money list.
He and Langley tied for low amateur at the 2010 U.S. Open, sharing 16th. Thursday, they were in awe of how far they had come from one year ago at a Hooters Tour event.
“He had just missed the cut, I barely made the cut, we were on the range trying to help each other find it,” Langley recalled.
“You know, we just were walking up 16, today you could see the ocean behind, PGA TOUR signs everywhere. We looked at each other and realized this is pretty cool. To look back one year ago and to know that we weren’t here, we were in a far different place.”
They earned their way, along with all the other rookies.
Langley, who got his accounting degree in 2011, won the 2010 NCAA championship. He is the TOUR’s first graduate of the First Tee program and he earned his card with a 17th-place finish at Q-School.
“I know, speaking from my experience, as soon as I got my card I couldn't wait until today,” Langley said. “The competitor in me was just really excited to get going. But I don’t know what it is. Russell played great today, Morgan Hoffmann played great, and Ben Kohles and a bunch of guys.
“We’re just all excited to play, excited to be out here. Whether or not we're more motivated than others, I don't know. I'm pretty motivated to play well, but I think we help each other, the young guys.”
And the guys before help as well.
“It's just fun to see our peers who we've seen for so long be out here, Bud Cauley, Rickie (Fowler), Cameron Tringale, doing so well, being in contention to win tournaments,” Langley added. “When we do get out here, we believe that we can play well because we see the guys that we have played against our whole careers doing the same thing.”
Scott Langley, the first alum of The First Tee program to earn a PGA TOUR card, took the first-round lead at the Sony Open in Hawaii in his debut as a TOUR member.
Langley made six birdies and an eagle in his bogey-free opening-round 62 that left him one shot ahead of fellow rookie and Thursday playing competitor Russell Henley.
Scott Piercy and Tim Clark are another shot back at 6 under whole Jeff Overton and Stephen Ames round out the top 5 at 5 under.
It was the rookies stealing the show, however.
A total of 23 PGA TOUR rookies teed it up at the Sony Open and three are currently inside the top 10 -- Morgan Hoffmann is T7 at 4 under.
Langley, who won the 2010 NCAA title while at Illinois, has made the cut in four of the six events he's previously played on the PGA TOUR, including two top-30 finishes at the U.S. Open.
He opened the day with three birdies on his first four holes then added an eagle on No. 9 to make the turn in 5-under 30. Langley added birdies on Nos. 10 and 16 before breaking a tie with Henley on the 18th with a 6-foot birdie conversion to take the overnight lead.
Henley, who said he was just trying to keep pace with Langley, birdied eight holes but had a bogey on the par-3 11th in his first event as a TOUR member. Henley won two of his last four events on the Web.com Tour in 2012, including the Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open at TPC Sawgrass, to secure his 2013 TOUR card.
Langley and Henley will tee off their second round with Luke Guthrie (+1) at 8:30 a.m. local/1:30 p.m. ET Friday.
Luke Guthrie made just 10 Web.com Tour starts in 2012 -- and finished third of better four times. (Ferrey/Getty Images)
Among the rookie graduates from the Web.com Tour and Q-school, who will have the best season in 2013?
If he putts as well as he did when he first turned pro, Luke Guthrie should have no problem having a John Huh-type year as a rookie in 2013. -- Ryan Smithson, Producer
I look for a player that has paid his dues, shown steady progression, faced adversity and recovered. Luke List fits all those requirements. In three years at Web.com he progressed from 78th to 4th on the money list and arrives on the PGA TOUR as a complete player mentally and physically. -- Fred Albers, PGA TOUR Insider
What I like about Luke List: A half-dozen top 10s on the Web.com Tour that included a win and two runner-up finishes; led in driving distance, just outside the top 50 in GIR and 36th in putting. What I like more: His game passes the eyeball test among fellow players. -- Brian Wacker, Producer
Ben Kohles. He opened his pro career with consecutive wins on the Web.com Tour. Perhaps just as telling is that he ranked first in driving accuracy and 24th in greens hit last year. -- Mike McAllister, Managing Editor
Russell Henley gets the edge thanks in part to a high starting position in the reshuffle, but he has all of the tools, too. Seemed to experience a coming of age late in the year on the Web.com Tour with a pair of playoff victories amidst a run of four consecutive top 10s. -- Rob Bolton, Fantasy Insider
It is really hard to win on the Web.com Tour. Not only did Ben Kohles do it the first time he teed it up on the Web.com Tour, but he won in a playoff ... and then backed it up with another win in his next start. He's sure to be a factor on the PGA TOUR in 2013. -- Anne Szeker, Producer
What Luke Guthrie did after turning pro after the NCAA Championships was phenomenal. The Illini standout lost in a playoff in his first Web.com Tour start, then went on to notch two wins among his seven top-10s and finish second on the money list in just 10 starts. And did we mention Guthrie had top-20 finishes in three of his first four PGA TOUR starts, including a tie for fifth at the John Deere Classic? -- Helen Ross, Chief of Correspondents
Ben Kohles' two wins in his first two pro starts was one of the great stories of 2012, and an indicator of a guy who won't be fazed by life on golf's biggest stage. -- John Schwarb, Producer
Coming Thursday: Of the five players at the top of the 2012 FedExCup standings (Snedeker, McIlroy, Woods, Watney, Mickelson), who will have the most productive season in 2013?
To preview the 2013 PGA TOUR season, PGATOUR.COM is counting down the Top 100 Players to Watch in 2013. For an archive page with the top 100 players and for an explanation on how the list was compiled, click here .
2013 PREVIEW: Russell Henley saved his best golf for the end of the 2012 season, which should make for a solid spingboard to the PGA TOUR. He won twice in his last four events, both coming in playoffs, and finished sixth or better in the other two, which should be quite a confidence boost.
2012 DEFINING MOMENT: His win at the Chiquita Classic was particularly hard-fought after he put his second shot at the 18th hole in the water and had to hole a 20-footer for bogey to get into a playoff with Patrick Cantlay and Morgan Hoffman. A two-putt par on the first extra hole was good enough for the win– Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
ALBERS’ QUICK TAKE: Imagine that, another player from Georgia. Henley will bring his Bulldog talents to the PGA TOUR after winning twice on the Web.com Tour. What impresses me most, is Henley did not win until the last week of September and middle of October. When he needed a big finish, he delivered. – Fred Albers, SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio
BOLTON’S FANTASY OUTLOOK: There isn't anything to add to my assessment per my 2013 fantasy projections for Web.com Tour grads. Invest with confidence and plan on retaining for 2013-14 if in a keeper league-- Rob Bolton, PGATOUR.COM Fantasy expert
2012 QUICK REVIEW
Final money list ranking
|Best finish||1st (won playoff)
1st (won playoff)
Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open Presented by Planters
|By the Numbers
Cuts made: 17
Rounds played: 86
Top-10 finishes: 7
|Web.com Tour ranking
Driving distance: 47th
Driving accuracy: 25th
Greens in regulation: 24th
Putting average: 40th
Scoring average: 16th
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN
What is your prediction for Russell Henley in 2013? Fill out the form below and let us know
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
BETHESDA, Md. -- It may not be as compelling as the battle at the top of the leaderboard, but there's a close race for low amateur honors at the U.S. Open.
And given the youth movement in golf right now, you would be wise to pay close attention to these players. Who knows? You may be seeing them at a PGA TOUR event somewhere soon.
Patrick Cantlay, who just completed his freshman season -- yes, that's freshman season -- at UCLA, currently heads the group. Cantlay, who won the Jack Nicklaus Award as the nation's top collegian, shot 70 on Saturday and is 1 under for 54 holes.
Russell Henley, who was the co-low amateur last year at Pebble Beach, is one shot back at even par after a 71 in the third round. Henley, who just completed his eligibility at Georgia, actually won a Nationwide Tour event on his home course earlier this year. He opted to remain an amateur, though, in hopes of matching the Walker Cup team.
The third amateur, Brad Benjamin, had rough day on Saturday and shot 80. The 24-year-old Benjamin played collegiately at Memphis and won the U.S. Amateur Public Links in 2009.
BETHESDA, Md. -- Peter Uihlein, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, is arguably the most well-known of the 12 amateurs in the field at Congressional this week. UCLA freshman Peter Cantley, who recently received the Jack Nicklaus Award as the top collegian, is also putting his abundant talent on display.
And if Steve Irwin’s name sounds familiar, it should -- his father Hale, who will be in his gallery, is a three-time U.S. Open champ. Not to mention, there’s one amateur who already has a professional victory under his belt.
That’s Russell Henley, who became just the second amateur to win on the Nationwide Tour when he captured the Stadion Classic at UGA last month. He decided not turn pro because he wants to play on the Walker Cup team later this summer.
So Henley comes to Congressional looking for back-to-back low amateur titles at the U.S. Open. He tied for for 16th at Pebble Beach last year -- along with fellow am Scott Langley, who just graduated from Illinois but is not in the field this week.
Henley, who recently completed his senior year at Georgia, is the only one of the 12 amateurs in the field who has played in a U.S. Open. Here's a complete list:
|Michael Barbosa||28||Georgia Tech|
|Beau Hossler||16||Santa Margarita High School|
|Brett Patterson||19||Middle Tennessee State|
|Scott Pinckney||22||Arizona State|
|Peter Uihlein||21||Oklahoma State|
The recent NCAA champion and the man who won the Fred Haskins Award earlier this week will battle for low amateur honors at Pebble Beach.
Illinois’ Scott Langley, who won the individual NCAA crown, has the edge at 2 over and in a tie for 13th. He fired a 69 on Friday and moved 53 spots on the leaderboard.
Georgia’s Russell Henley is 5 over for the tournament and tied for 39th. He shot a 74 in the second round.
“Low am obviously would be cool,” Langley said. “I’ve got two more rounds to go. Russell’s playing great so we’re going to have a fun battle for it. I’m just going to go out and try and play my best this weekend.”
Langley, who teamed with Dana Quigley to win the Home Care and Hospice First Tee Open at Pebble Beach in 2006, said he has embraced the challenge this week.,
“I think it’s fun playing in front of crowds like this and people are cheering for you,” Langley said. “I think it helps having people give you words of encouragement at every hole, almost. I had a blast today.
“I’m just going to try and keep having fun this weekend. Obviously the course is difficult, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be, and I’m looking forward to tackling it the next couple of days.” – Helen Ross