Henley slows things down on the course

January 16, 2013 

Johnny Miller kept noting the calm demeanor combined with just the right amount of aggressiveness.

And pretty much everybody who watched more than a few holes saw the maturity and patience of somebody a decade or so older.

No doubt the image of Russell Henley imprinted on the minds of so many around here is now his fist pump and yell after dropping yet another birdie to end what little suspense was left in the Sony Open.

Scores of Maconites sat in living rooms or man caves, and some sat on a deck and watched. And one thing kept coming back to this particular observer: Henley the hoopster.

To me, Henley almost has been the anti-golfer golfer for a while, going back to Tuesdays and Fridays when he played basketball at Stratford. The hair was longer, and it flapped a bit as the point guard ran up and down the court.

And Henley ran. This was no driver of a patient clock-killing bus; this was somebody with his foot on the gas. Stratford was disciplined and patient but not slow.

That observation was offered to the others in the group watching him drop putt after putt, make shot after shot in Hawaii.

And my analysis, as we watched the programming transfer from the course to The Golf Channel studio, was that Henley played basketball like he was trying for a hoops scholarship, as if a call from West Georgia or maybe Wofford would be very cool.

Basketball was the season, basketball was the priority, and hungry was the mode of play.

“Hyper? I don’t think I’m hyper; I’ve got a lot of energy,” Henley said in a story back in February of 2007 as the Eagles were in their requisite run to the playoffs. “Everybody on the team rags me about I’m spastic.”

Spastic doesn’t work so well in golf.

As we talked a day or two before that story ran, Henley fidgeted, certainly personable but not comfortable talking about himself, and as soon as we were done, he sprinted back to hoops practice.

That memory was fresh Sunday as coverage went to post-tournament analysis, and on came TGC analyst Tim Rosaforte. Suddenly, golf coverage featured Stratford basketball and then-head coach John Paul Gaddy and Henley’s pedal-to-the-medal court style.

Certainly few of the experts on hand for the tournament would imagine that somebody who played guard like Steve Nash could suddenly just stop the blood in his veins while lining up a 45-foot putt on a Hawaii beach.

That was Henley not all so long ago. To suggest back then that he slow it down, considering the huge future in golf that was evident when he was driving tee shots before he was driving cars, was absurd.

“If you love playing a sport, you should do it,” he said in 2007. “I’ve grown up playing every sport, and these are my two favorites. A lot of people, they don’t want to get injured. That’s a risk I’m willing to take.”

He finished that basketball season and didn’t get hurt, and rolled through a stellar career at Georgia in good health.

Last week, those who watched the steady 23-year-old would struggle to match him with that free-wheeling 17-year-old hoopster.

The common denominator, of course, was the winning.

Contact Michael A. Lough at 744-4626 or mlough@macon.com

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