January 12 2013
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.