PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Russell Henley walked up the 18th fairway, took off his hat and waved to every person he heard yelling his name.
When he arrived at the green, the Macon native motioned to the fans packed in the large spectator stands surrounding one of the most famous finishing holes in golf to yell louder than they already were.
He was in his own golfing heaven Sunday at the Pebble Beach Golf Links in the final round of the U.S. Open.
Henley didn’t have his best round of the tournament — he shot a 2-over-par 73 — but he did have his most memorable. He followed up rounds of 73, 74 and 72 to finish the tournament at 8 over par. Winner Graeme McDowell finished at even par.
The 21-year-old played well enough to finish tied for 16th in his first PGA Tour event and became the third amateur in the past 30 years to finish in the top 20 in the U.S. Open — a feat not accomplished by Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson during their amateur careers. Henley equaled the score of Illinois’ Scott Langley to share the low amateur award.
“If I never play another round of golf, then this is enough,” Henley said. “This was just the most amazing experience.”
Serenaded by loud cheers on nearly every hole, Henley’s outgoing personality and ability to play to the crowd made him a fan favorite this week at Pebble Beach.
“The fans just want to know that you know they’re there,” he said.
Henley finished his final round with four birdies, four bogeys and a double bogey, which was his first of the tournament.
After making bogeys on Nos. 2 and 3, Henley rebounded with a birdie on No. 5 after sticking his tee shot on the par-3 hole to about six feet. He followed that with a short birdie putt on No. 6 to get back to even-par for the round.
Henley lost the momentum, however, with a double bogey on the dangerous par-3 7th hole.
As was the case all week long, Henley refused get upset by the mistake. He was having too much fun.
The 21-year-old rebounded quickly with a birdie on No. 8, which was Henley’s favorite hole this week because of the loud crowds that seemed to adopt him this week. He made some nice saves for par this week there, but he didn’t have a birdie there until he made a lengthy putt there Sunday.
“I wanted that so bad for those fans,” Henley said. “They went crazy for me all week. I wanted to give them that.”
Henley added one more birdie on No. 13 to go with bogeys on Nos. 10 and 17.
“I didn’t play my best golf and never got a chance to put everything together,” Henley said. “I just wasn’t very consistent, but this was such a great week.”
Henley would have received an exemption to next year’s U.S. Open with a top 10 finish. He needed to shoot 5 over to make that cut, and that number would have landed him an exemption into the Masters, as well.