Russell Henley got a first-hand lesson about Augusta National Golf Club last year.
He sure looked like a quick learner Thursday.
The Macon native and former Stratford and Georgia standout missed the cut in his first Masters appearance last year, but he played well in the first round Thursday, shooting a 1-over-par 73. Henley is tied for 27th, five shots behind leader Bill Haas.
“I was proud of myself,” Henley said. “I stayed pretty calm the whole day even after a pretty terrible shot on No. 13. I guess that just comes from experience. But I stayed patient and stayed calm and stayed in the moment, and I’m pretty confident in my game right now.
“It added up to a pretty good score. We waited on almost every shot, so everything considered, I think it was a good day.”
The shot on No. 13 led to one of his two bogeys in the round. Henley hit his second shot from the fairway well left, had to take an unplayable lie and ended up with a 6 on the par-5. The other bogey came on the seventh hole, also from the middle of the fairway, when Henley got a bad break when his ball bounced over the green.
“I hit two awesome shots, and I think I got a bad hop over the green,” Henley said of the seventh hole. “I couldn’t believe it was like 40 yards over the green. But I had two good swings there.”
So with the two bogeys and rest pars, Henley sat at 2 over heading to the 15th hole. His drive, again, was right in the middle of the fairway, and his second shot trickled off the back of the green. He two-putted for the birdie to get back to 1 over.
“It was an awesome drive; I hit my drive great,” Henley said. “I hit an awesome 4-iron (on the second shot). I couldn’t figure out what the wind was doing, and the wind didn’t touch it. I hit a really nice putt from off the green to a couple of feet and made the putt. I had to work for it, but that’s what this course does to you.”
Henley finished his round in style with a nice chip from off the green to set up an easy putt for a par on the 18th hole. That came after his second shot from the bunker went left of the green
“I hit an awesome drive, and I thought, ‘There’s no way I can get to the bunker.’ It’s 310 (yards from the tee), and it went in,” he said. “I definitely didn’t hit the best bunker shot, but I felt like I should have been in the fairway there. So to come up with a par, I was pretty relieved after the 7-iron out of the bunker. But the chip, it’s cliche to say, it did exactly what I thought it would do.
“I have done a lot of chipping and putting around that green, and it was really fast.”
Henley’s playing partners, former Georgia teammate Harris English and Englishman Lee Westwood, shot 74 and 73, respectively, on Thursday.Now, Henley will get a shot to make his first cut in this tournament. Last year, the second round was a struggle as he shot an 81, but he feels better prepared this year.
Henley’s birthday is Saturday, so he is hoping to give himself a pretty solid birthday present with another good round Friday.
“It’s great. There’s a lot of hype about this tournament,” Henley said. “It’s my dream to be playing here, and I tried to enjoy the challenge (Thursday). I think last year I was worried about making the cut, and I definitely wasn’t as ready mentally. I enjoyed the walk and enjoyed the challenge, and that usually works for me.
“Hopefully, I can make the cut. It would be awesome to play on my birthday. It would be a dream. But I have a long way to go before that.”