FLASHBACK: Henley chases down English to win Georgia Amateur

jheeter@macon.comJuly 3, 2014 

Golf

Russell Henley kisses the trophy for pictures after winning the Georgia Amateur at Idle Hour Country Club in 2008.

JASON VORHEES — jvorhees@macon.com Buy Photo

These stories ran on Monday, July 14, 2008 after Russell Henley won his first Georgia Amateur Championship

Macon native Hensley overcomes 4-stroke deficit, 2-hour stoppage to win

By Jonathan Heeter

Russell Henley had made the same shot his entire life.

But staring at the 18th green at Idle Hour Club from the tee box Sunday, Henley faced an entirely new challenge.

Flanked by a few hundred of his closest friends and family, the Macon native was one hole away from realizing his dream of winning the 87th Georgia Amateur Championship on his home course.

Henley, 19, stuck his tee shot on the correct tier of the green and two-putted from 20 feet for a 1-under-par 69 to win the Georgia Amateur by one stroke over his University of Georgia roommate and defending tournament champion Harris English.

Henley's final score of 270 broke the Georgia Amateur scoring record held by former Masters champion Tommy Aaron and Allen Doyle, who has gone on to success on the Champions Tour after a long amateur career.

"There was some amazing pressure standing there," Henley said of the tee shot on the 18th hole. "I've played that shot my whole life, but never with this much riding on it. This is the biggest tournament I have ever won."

Henley became the first Macon native since Peter Persons in 1984 to win the Georgia Amateur and joins Persons and Arnold Blum, who won the tournament five times, as the only winners from Macon.

"This is just so incredible," said Persons, who has served as one of Henley's Idle Hour mentors. "It was absolutely his destiny to win this tournament at this golf course. But he still had to go out and do it."

Joined by his caddie and brother Adam, Henley completed the task many had expected of him when Idle Hour was awarded the tournament. Henley, who has been a golfing prodigy since his days on the junior circuit, has long been anointed the next great player from Macon, following in the footsteps of Persons, who also was a star at Georgia and later played on the PGA Tour.

Henley has won his share of area tournaments. He was the youngest player from Georgia to qualify for the U.S. Open Sectionals and also the youngest player to ever win the Macon-Middle Georgia Championship, both in 2005. As a freshman at Georgia, Henley led the team in scoring average and was named a second-team All-American.

"Everybody has seen for a long time that Russell is an extremely talented golfer," Persons said. "You're beginning to see how good he is. He's grown up a lot since high school, and he's getting better each week."

Henley, however, aimed much of his energy toward winning this tournament at Idle Hour. The opportunity to win the biggest amateur tournament in the state in front of his family and friends was his dream come true, he said.

But that came into doubt Sunday when Henley fell behind by four shots midway into his final round. He relied on his brother to calm him and his putter to lead him. He made a 20-foot birdie putts on No. 9 and a 30-footer on No. 11 to get back into the tournament. Henley eventually pulled away with steady play and English's errant shot out of bounds on No. 15 that cost him two strokes when play resumed after bad weather caused a two-hour delay.

"Russell kept it steady. He got a little nervous but got things rolling with those putts," Adam Henley said. "We bump fists a lot, and he about dislocated my finger after that putt on No. 11."

Because of commitments to his Georgia team, Russell Henley missed an opportunity to qualify for this tournament but was granted an exemption after he wrote a letter to the Georgia State Golf Association explaining his desire to play in the tournament at Idle Hour.

"Nobody deserves to win this more than Russell," Persons said. "He worked so hard to get to this point, and now he reached his goal for now. He has some bigger ones in the future, though."

Under pressure, Henley delivers big comeback

By Jay Adams

The pressure was palpable for Russell Henley. Like the humidity Sunday at Idle Hour Club, the stress felt tangible, as if it could be grabbed, held and somehow soothed into being more calm and less persistent.

But it would be hard to tell by looking at Henley during the final round of the Georgia Amateur Championship.

Henley never let on for a second that being the favorite, garnering a gallery of 200-plus people each day, playing on his home course or facing his college teammate and roommate got to him.

And Henley's demeanor went unchanged Sunday.

As he walked down fairways with a commanding gait, no one realized that Henley was like a duck on water - calm at the surface, but frantic beneath.

"Everybody's out here expecting me to hit every one perfect," Henley said shortly after tapping in for par on No. 18 to win the Georgia Amateur. "They're out here expecting me to win. They're expecting me to make every putt I look at. You miss a couple of putts, you get off to start like I did (Sunday), it's tough, man. It wears on you."

But through it all, Henley found the balance.

He zoned out the supporters who included close family and friends when he needed to and acknowledged their approval when they so regularly offered their support.

He forgot about being the favorite, and he used his knowledge of his home course to his advantage.

But fellow Georgia Bulldogs golfer and defending Georgia Amateur champion Harris English was tougher to contend with.

Henley was tested every step and shot of the way, forcing him to be on top of his game through the entire 72 holes of the tournament. English can be credited as the catalyst for Henley's admirable play, most notably during the final 18 holes.

English never relented Sunday, and Henley never folded. Both made shots when it counted, and each pushed the other to become better.

After Henley was down by as many as four strokes early in Sunday's round, he drained spectacular birdie putts on Nos. 9 and 11 to get back into the mix.

When English mishit his second shot on the 629-yard, par-5 15th out of bounds just before the horns blew to announce what would end up being a 2-hour, 13-minute weather delay, Henley returned to hit every single shot the rest of the way absolutely perfectly.

It was a battle that will likely become the stuff of local legend years from now. It's a shame anyone had to lose.

But despite all the challenges, distractions and talent that would have otherwise prevented him from realizing a dream Sunday, Henley prevailed, finally able to breathe again as he first got his hands on the championship trophy.

"Obviously, he knows how to play this course better than anybody, probably. But it's different when the stakes are high, and you never really know how you're going to react," Henley's brother and caddie Adam Henley said. "I just want to cry when I think about how proud I am of him to step up in a high-pressure situation like this was."

Home of a champion: Henley wins at Idle Hour

By Coley Harvey

Standing on the edge of Idle Hour Club's soggy 18th green late Sunday afternoon, Russell Henley shared his fondest and most sacred childhood dreams.

"I had all my friends out here I hadn't seen since college, and seeing them just surround this green, it's what you dream about," Henley said. "I've been dreaming about two things: One was that shot on the 17th tee; I've been thinking about that for two years now. And the other thing I've been thinking about is what it would be like to tap in with everybody out here just cheering."

Henley can kiss those dreams goodbye, because they're reality now.

The former standout golfer at Stratford and rising sophomore at Georgia opened his eyes to the support of more than 200 of his closest friends, family and fans Sunday, when he sank a 4-foot par putt on the 18th green to win the Georgia Amateur Championship at his home golf course.

Competing with Henley in the final three-man group of the tournament were former Georgia Amateur champions Harris English (the 2007 winner and Henley's current teammate) and David Noll Jr. (the 2003 champion).

Registering a 10-under-par total, Henley shot a tournament record 270 through 72 holes, breaking the 271 mark previously held by Tommy Aaron (1960) and Allen Doyle (1988).

With the victory, Henley also became the fifth consecutive golfer with Georgia Bulldogs ties to win the tournament. Along with English, current Bulldogs golfer Brian Harman won in 2005, while Georgia alumni Bill Brown of Dublin and David Denham won in 2006 and 2004, respectively.

"It's hard to really put all that pressure on yourself and think about (contributing to the list of Georgia winners), but to be a part of that with all those guys? You've got Harris English, Brian Harman, I mean, I've been trying to beat Harris since I was 11," Henley said.

English nearly derailed Henley's path to victory, however, jumping to a quick four-stroke lead entering the ninth hole Sunday.

Tied with Henley at 9 under entering the afternoon, English created the gap when he dropped successive birdie putts on Nos. 4 and 5 to go to 11 under. But as he began to struggle, Henley picked up the pace.

A 20-foot putt for birdie on No. 9 began to turn Henley's fortune, creating some late-round drama.

On No. 11, he sank a near 30-foot putt for birdie, drawing a thunderous applause from the crowd following the final group.

At the 13th hole, English couldn't reach the pin cleanly after placing his tee shot in the fringe 50 feet from the cup. As he bogeyed the hole, Henley saved par and continued his comeback.

"It was a poor chip hit there that turned a birdie hole into a bogey hole pretty quick," English said.

Then, on No. 15, just after English smacked his second shot on the par-5, 629-yard hole to the right and out of bounds onto Idle Hour Drive - the road that runs parallel to the hole - a horn sounded, signaling the start of a 2-hour, 13-minute weather delay. Following the delay, English, who suffered a two-stroke penalty from the out-of-bounds shot, double bogeyed, falling to 9 under as Henley took the lead at 10 under.

"Yeah, it was tough getting into a rhythm after that (delay), but that's summer weather in the South for you," English said.

At the 17th, Henley solidified phase one of his childhood golf dreams, when he drove more than 250 yards into the middle of the fairway on the 418-yard par-4.

"I dreamed about 17 like that ever since they moved the tees back a while ago," Henley said. "And then hitting a 3-wood straight there with this crazy dogleg left and trees all around, it makes it kind of hard to play.

"But when I did that, I said, 'I can do this, I know I can do this.' "

Burying a putt for par on the hole, he confidently moved to No. 18 carrying a one-stroke lead over English.

"I knew right then, it was time to go, I had one more hole to go," Henley said.

Then, on the same hole where, as a kid, he dreamed of hearing a massive crowd scream his name, Henley watched his putt rattle in, causing his caddie, older brother Adam Henley, to beam with pride as Russell Henley and English shared a hug on the green.

"I just want to cry when I think about how proud I am of him - I'm just really proud," Adam Henley said.

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