Workhorse Henry putting local knowledge to good use

Cohen/Getty Images
J.J. Henry's busy schedule always includes the John Deere, and he's in contention this week.
July 13, 2012
Craig DeVrieze, special to PGATOUR.COM

SILVIS, Ill. -- With its triple-digit temperatures, Fort Worth, Texas, is a good place not to be in the summer.

For an old TCU Horned Frog like J.J Henry, meanwhile, Fort Worth falls are becoming an increasingly more enjoyable time to stay close to home.


Proudly sporting his alma mater's purple across a TPC Deere Run layout where University of Illinois orange and blue were the colors of the day, Henry fashioned a tidy 7-under 64 in the second round to move up the leaderboard at the John Deere Classic.

With the morning draw complete, Henry stood at 11 under for the tournament and trailed only first-round leader Troy Matteson, who backed his opening 61 with a 3-under 68 and led Henry and Gary Christian by a pair. Among a group a shot south of Henry is Illinois grad Steve Stricker, the three-time defending champion and the lead attraction on Illini Day at the JDC.

The John Deere marks Henry's 22nd start this season and his fourth in as many weeks. That's not an atypical schedule for Henry, who has averaged just under 30 events per year in his 12 full seasons. Although he did concede he would enjoy the luxury of joining the PGA TOUR thoroughbreds who can meet their annual goals in fewer than 20 starts, the 37-year-old native of Fairfield, Conn., said he doesn't mind working summers.

"It's 100-some degrees at home," he said.

Henry is making his seventh career start at Deere Run, a 7,259-yard par-71 track drawn up by D.A. Weibring. Henry knows Weibring's work well, having served as player consultant on a Weibring-led redesign of the TPC Four Seasons Resort course near his adopted hometown in Texas.

Coincidentally, TPC Four Seasons was the scene of Henry's best 2012 showing to date, a third at the HP Byron Nelson Championship. Bidding there for his second career win, he led until a misclub at the 71st hole led to a double bogey. He finished two back of Jason Dufner.

"That definitely was a tough thing to swallow, especially living in Fort Worth and with what Byron Nelson meant to me," he said. "It's not like you're going to a different city and, ho-hum, you kind of blew the tournament."

Henry said there are some similarities between the two Weibring-drawn TPCs, with lots of runoff areas around the greens, reachable par 4s and closing holes conducive to exciting conclusions.

"I'm going to call him and say you need to keep designing courses," said Henry, who shared fifth at the 2009 JDC. "Between the first two days here and the Nelson, things are looking up."

That conversation just might include a suggestion that Weibring re-work No. 9 at Deere Run. That 503-yard par 4 is where Henry carded his only two bogeys this week. He drove right into a fairway bunker on Thursday afternoon and took 5, then overcorrected and found himself blocked left on Friday morning. Forced to lay up, he missed a 20-footer for par, one of his longer putts on a day when accurate approaches led to an 8-under start through his first 15 holes.

"I think my longest birdie putt might have been six or eight feet," Henry said. "Hit a lot of tap-ins. If I figure out this ninth hole, hopefully things will be OK this weekend."

A strong weekend would help Henry move up from his 113th-place position in the FedExCup standings and afford him a chance to comfortably enjoy his beloved Horned Frogs' football debut in the Big 12 Conference this fall.

"I bleed purple," he said. "I finished school there in '98 and I think we went 1-11 and tore the goalposts down the last game of the year, when we beat Southern Methodist. To see the transformation over the last 14 years and what Gary Patterson has done is great. We're very good friends. I talk to him a lot, even about golf. Kind of an inspirational guy."

Henry has two sons he would enjoy seeing more of year-round, but he has continued to play a heavy schedule since failing to build on what he thought was a breakthrough campaign in 2006. He bagged his lone victory at the Travelers Championship in his native Connecticut that summer and was a member of the Ryder Cup team in the fall.

"I really thought it would be a steppingstone to the next level," he said. "For whatever reason, it wasn't to be. (But) I'm just 37. Hopefully, my best golf is still ahead of me with a lot of experience I have had over the last dozen years."

Quite a lot of experience, actually. With in excess of $12 million in career earnings and 32 top-10 finishes on his resume, Henry certainly can't be considered a journeyman. But journey he has, making 352 starts over his 12 years. He is among 17 of the 246 players in this year's FedExCup race who have put a tee in the ground in 21 or more TOUR events.

"I play a lot, probably even more than I should at times," he said. "In perfect, ideal world would I like to play 18 events, be around my family and be a little bit refreshed? Absolutely. But this time of year, it's get after and go get it. Every week you're at home, you look up and guys are passing you. It's tough to swallow sometimes, especially as competitive as guys are out here."