ATHENS -- Russell Henley couldnt accept the nearly six-figure check. He couldnt take the silver watch from Tenas Jewelers, valued at $2,500.
What Henley could do was serve notice once again that he has a special future in the golf world.
On Sunday, the Macon native became just the second amateur golfer to win an event on the Nationwide Tour. It happened in front of a home crowd at the Stadion Classic and on the University of Georgia course, which he has played perhaps hundreds of times.
Still, the Georgia senior -- who spent last week taking exams and will graduate next week -- accomplished a lot by beating a field of golfers who play the sport for a living.
It hasnt really set in yet, Henley said. (People) keep saying, Oh I hope you make the cut. But Ive been telling everybody, I play to win every golf tournament. I played to win the Open last year.
That reference was to the U.S. Open, where Henley finished tied for 16th at Pebble Beach last year. He also couldnt accept a check for that, and Henleys next event will be an NCAA regional.
Asked what he would do Sunday night, Henley said he hoped some of his friends would still be in town so they could go eat and hang out for awhile. And he sounded all of his 22 years when asked what he would have done if he wasnt done with exams.
I can barely get myself to study as it is, but I dont think I could have done it right now, he said. I can barely even eat this Snickers bar.
The U.S. Open was obviously on a much bigger stage, but even in the second-tier Nationwide Tour, playing in front of so many home fans put some pressure on Henley.
I was a lot less nervous at the Open last year. I guess because I wasnt really close to the lead, he said.
In fact, he wasnt close to the lead after Thursdays first round. But he played catch-up the next two days, and on Sunday he started in a tie for the lead with Troy Kelly.
By the ninth hole, Henley had the lead for good, after a bogey by Kelly, who also bogeyed the next hole. But the back nine saw plenty of drama, as Henley had to play consistent -- but aggressive -- golf to hold onto the lead.
Thats what got me there, Henley said. It was definitely a lot harder for me to commit to shots. It was harder to choose, when youve got a lot of adrenaline going through your body, and its just harder to make good decisions.
It also helped to be so familiar with the course. He admitted that on certain shots he was comfortable taking chances, knowing the layout of every hole. For instance on the 18th, when he was in the woods after his tee shot, he knew that if he hit it past the bunker he had a good chance of getting up-and-down for the par. And he did.
Chris Haack, the head coach of the UGA mens golf team, said the crowd and course probably helped his player.
For those of us whove watched him play quite a bit, he loves the crowds. That helps him relax when they kind of get behind him, Haack said. I dont think theres any doubt that the familiarity of the golf course certainly helps. He probably if he was in a couple tough situations knew how to bail out. So it couldnt hurt, thats for sure.
Henleys gallery numbered in the hundreds, which is unusual for a Nationwide event. It included fellow students, family and local fans.
Kelly, who is from Washington state, admitted the situation was difficult for him.
Youve got all the local people rooting for him, you kind of feel like its you against the world out there, Kelly said.
Kelly didnt mind it too much: He got the $99,000 winners share.
The watch was donated to charity. Henley will have to wait to collect winnings until he turns pro later this year.
Its nice to be successful at that kind of age, Kelly said of Henley. Because hes gonna turn pro here pretty soon, Im sure. Im sure its gonna give him a ton of confidence. He knows he can already play out there. Well see. Just keep grinding away. Hes a great player, and hes got a good head. He seems comfortable. He putts it good. He hits it long off the tee. So hes gonna be a good player.