Hours before he finished his first round of this year’s Masters one over par, Russell Henley sat on a plane for the 35-minute flight from Charleston, South Carolina, to Augusta.
Henley, a Stratford Academy graduate and former Georgia golfer, had spent the past two days at a hospital in Charleston. He skipped practice rounds at Augusta National, missed an opportunity to hit hundreds of shots and passed on time to read the complicated greens before Thursday’s opening round. But Henley has played in the Masters four times already, so he at least has some idea how this all works.
Besides, Henley was at the hospital for the birth of his first child.
On Monday afternoon, after he had completed the first of what he thought was going to be two practice rounds before the tournament began, Henley received a call from his wife, Teil. He was stretching. She was going into labor.
Henley immediately got in a car with his parents, Chapin and Sally Henley, and his brother-in-law to drive three hours to a Charleston hospital to join Teil, who had remained in South Carolina. They arrived at 6 p.m. With his wife in labor and a baby on the way, Henley didn’t sleep Monday night.
Around 4:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Teil Henley gave birth to the couple’s first child, a boy they named Robert Russell Henley.
“He’s the cutest thing,” Sally Henley said.
Instead of preparing for the first major tournament of the year, Henley spent the next two days at a Charleston hospital worrying about his newborn. The baby boy was born 12 days earlier than expected, and the baby’s head swelled. Doctors placed Robert in a neonatal intensive care unit. Henley didn’t think he would play in the Masters, though that was the least of his concerns at the time.
“The swelling in his head was getting worse and worse,” Henley said.
Wednesday afternoon, between 4-5 p.m., doctors updated Henley and his wife on their baby’s health.
“They said the circumference of his head had gone down, the swelling had gone,” Henley said. “They were talking about getting released today. They would let me know if anything got worse overnight and they never let me know, so I think he's doing good.”
Comfortable in his baby’s health and having received Teil’s approval, Henley decided to play in the Masters. He boarded a plane bound for Augusta at 8:15 a.m. Thursday. Four hours later, he teed off from Augusta National’s first tee box. Henley kept himself at par the first three holes, but he bogeyed the next two holes.
“He’s playing tired,” Chapin Henley said after his son bogeyed the par-3 fourth hole.
Henley finished the front nine at four over par, in danger of falling far behind the leaders. But Henley recovered after the turn, hitting birdies on holes 11, 13 and 14. On the 17th green, Henley needed to make a long putt for a birdie that would bring his score back to even.
“Watch Russell make this birdie putt,” Chapin Henley said.
A minute later, Henley’s ball rolled into the cup. Sally and Chapin Henley leaned back, raised their arms and screamed.
“I told you,” Chapin said.
“We’re even!” Sally said. “We’re even!”
Henley bogeyed 18 to end his round one over par, seven shots behind leader Jordan Spieth. It was 5:40 p.m. Seventy-five hours had passed since Henley left Augusta National on Monday afternoon. On Friday morning at 9:25 a.m., Henley will tee off again and play another 18 holes of golf.
The week continues.