Macon’s Henley wins as amateur on Nationwide Tour

jheeter@macon.comMay 8, 2011 

ATHENS -- Russell Henley really knows how to celebrate holidays.

The University of Georgia golfer and Macon native gave his dad, Chapin Henley, a 16th-place finish and low amateur honors at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach on Father’s Day in 2010.

His Mother’s Day gift to mom Sally Henley may have topped that one.

Henley earned his first victory in a professional event Sunday with his mother following him along for all 18 holes at the Nationwide Tour’s Stadion Classic at UGA. He beat Troy Kelly by two shots for the win.

“The majority of the year, I don’t get to see my family that much,” Henley said. “A lot of my friends’ moms where out there, too, so it’s nice that people wanted to spend the day watching me play golf.”

Henley overcame an errant tee shot on the final hole to protect his two-shot lead. He had to hit his second shot from pine straw on No. 18 and then made a short tap-in for par to earn the victory with a final round 3-under-par 68.

After making the putt, Henley looked to the sky and shared a long embrace with his caddie and brother Adam Henley.

A large, pro-Georgia crowd exploded after he made the putt for total 12-under-par 272.

“I’m numb,” Henley said after he signed hisscorecard. “I don’t remember anything.”

A large gallery, including a sizeable group from Macon, followed Henley all day long. After the win, Henley hugged many of his Macon supporters and signed autographs for children.

“This is unbelievable,” Adam Henley said. “We’ve had some great moments on the course, but he won a pro event. Unbelievable.”

Henley, who will graduate from Georgia on Friday, becomes just the second amateur to win a Nationwide Tour event. He is believed to be just the fourth amateur to win on one of the top two tiers of the PGA Tour in the modern era. He joins Phil Mickelson, Scott Verplank and Daniel Summerhays, who turned professional in 2007 after winning a Nationwide Tour event.

If he were a professional, Henley would have earned $99,000 with the victory Sunday.

“This is a dream come true for me,” Henley said. “Just getting to play in this golf tournament was a tremendous opportunity, and to win it means the world to me. My goal is to be a professional golfer, and this reinforces to me that I can compete at the professional level.”

Henley has made the cut in all four of his professional events. His best finish prior to Sunday’s win came in last year’s U.S. Open.

The 22-year-old could receive an exemption onto the Nationwide Tour if he turns professional. He has 60 days to decide, but he said Sunday he didn’t plan to take the exemption. Henley has consistently said he wanted to represent the U.S. in the Walker Cup, amateur golf’s version of the Ryder Cup, in September. The triumph also earns Henley an exemption onto the Nationwide Tour in 2012, thanks to a tournament win exemption.

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