BETHESDA, Md. (June 17, 2011) – Russell Henley had already thrown his golf ball into the gallery off the 18th green after shooting 2-under 69, but the cheers just kept coming.
He walked a bit further off the green and looked back to ask his caddie for another ball, which was caught by a jumping teenager in a white shirt. More and more cheers. People from Georgia and people who had never heard of the recent UGA grad continued to clamor for more attention from Henley.
He asked his caddie for another ball and sky-hooked it into the crowd. And then another. And then a whole sleeve. When his bag was finally empty, he had thrown eight balls and a glove into the grandstands.
It’s probably the least Henley could do for the fans. As long as they’re around, he can’t miss.
“I like the crowd, for or against,” said Henley, who’s tied for low amateur honors with Patrick Cantlay of UCLA at even-par 142 (T-15). “It almost makes me feel like my attitude is better because there’s kids out there and I just want them to look up and be like, ‘Wow, that’s what I want to be like.’ I think it definitely brings out the best in me.”
Henley pleased plenty of patrons last year at the U.S. Open, where he tied for low amateur at T-16. He also won a Nationwide Tour event as an amateur in May, claiming victory at the Stadion Classic at UGA, his home course while he was a Bulldog.
“I don’t have anything to lose. I’m not playing for money. I’m playing for fun,” Henley said. “That’s what’s great about playing as an amateur. Hopefully I’ll play like that when I’m a pro.”
Henley’s fellow low-amateur Cantlay couldn’t be more different. He’s quiet and reserved, but there were no college players in the country this year that had more game. Cantlay won four times, including the NCAA West Regional and raked in freshman-of-the-year and player-of-the-year awards. He played on the Palmer Cup team with Henley and is a lock for the Walker Cup team.
“(Patrick) is very impressive – little draw down the middle every time – and a very, very good putter, and he’s a great guy, too,” Henley said. “Hopefully I’ll get to play on his team soon.”
And hopefully there are plenty of fans there to see it.
– D.J. Piehowski