Russell Henley's first shot at the U.S. Open was nearly a disaster.
His second shot? Not much better.
But those two mishaps on the tough par-4 10th hole at Pebble Beach Golf Links were the exception rather than the rule in Henley's PGA Tour debut Thursday.
Henley, who started his round on the back nine, stayed solid for most of the day, making four bogeys and two birdies as he stayed well within position to make the cut at his first major championship. He finished with a 2-over-par 73, four shots of the lead and tied for 29th.
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"Sure, it makes me feel like I belong," Henley said. "But the difference between me and them right now, and amateurs and professionals, is that they put together four rounds of solid golf. (On Friday), I will try to put together a second one. All in all, it's a pretty good round. It could have been better."
One of those mistakes Henley was referring to came on his final hole of the day, the par-4 9th hole.He hit his second shot long and into the greenside rough. His chip onto the green went about 10 feet past the hole, and he missed the comeback putt for par.
Henley was in a tie for 15th prior to that bogey.
“There was definitely a 68 or 69 out there for him (Thursday),” caddie Adam Henley said. “He just didn’t make any putts. He had some big par putts, but he just couldn’t seem to get the birdies rolling.”
The Georgia junior and Macon native couldn't have started much worse.
He hit his tee shot on the 10th hole right off the fairway, and it somehow held up from falling onto the beach that buffers the course and the ocean. His second shot from an awkward stance flew onto a tee box on No. 11.
“I saw that I’m worried about him falling off the cliff onto the beach,” Adam Henley said. “Second shot of the U.S. Open, and I’m worried more about him surviving.
Facing a third shot from tall grass at a green guarded in the front by a bunker and in back by the beach, Henley could have completely derailed his opening round before it really got started.
He hit his third shot, however, to about 25 feet and nearly made the comeback putt for par. The tap-in bogey was probably one of the best one his career.
"Yeah, that was a great 5," Henley said. "That gave me a lot of momentum going forward."
That was the beginning of a strong stretch of golf for the 21-year-old, who had a par or better on his next seven holes.
Henley had a nice chip on No. 11 and made a confidence-building par putt. He hit his approaches to inside 15 feet on the next two holes and came away with par putts.
After a missed birdie try on No. 14, Henley made up the final 10 feet with another clutch par putt.
Henley hit his best shot of the day on No. 15, when he put his approach to about 6 feet. As the gallery in the stands clapped and cheered, Henley raised his right arm from the fairway. He made the birdie putt and raised his putter to the air as the crowd cheered him on. He held the putter up and had a big smile on his face as he walked to No. 16.
“There are too many guys out here on tour that are way too serious,” Henley said. “These fans are screaming their hearts out and people act like they aren’t even there. I don’t want to be like that. …That’s the loudest ovation I’ve ever received.”
Henley got up-and-down from the bunker on the tough 17th hole and looked like he would make the turn at even par, particularly after hitting his tee shot in the fairway on No. 18. At the time, he'd moved into a tie for 13th. Georgia head coach Chris Haack couldn't stop grinning on the course with Henley playing well and Hudson Swafford, a Georgia senior, leading the tournament at the moment.
But Henley hit the second into a bunker 120 yards short of the green.His third shot on the par-5 hole was short of the green. After an outstanding flop shot, Henley missed a 5-footer for par.
“You can’t let that kind of stuff get to you,” he said. “It wasn’t a good putt.”
Henley would bogey No. 3 before rebounding immediately with a birdie on the next hole. He nearly drove the green 322 yards away with a massive gallery and Tiger Woods watching. Woods was waiting to go off on the adjacent 17th tee.
He strung together four pars before the closing bogey.
“I just think it shows how well he can compete out here,” Adam Henley said. “It’s the hardest course in the world, and he’s playing better than a lot of the top guys in the world his first time out here. I’m pretty pumped.”