BILLY MORRIS: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We are pleased to welcome to our club and to this golf course and this tournament, Russell Henley. We are glad to have him here with us today. Russell is making his Masters debut this week. He won his first start as an official member of the PGA TOUR at the Sony Open in Hawaii, becoming the first player since 2001 to accomplish that feat. His 24‑under par total of 256 was the lowest in the Sony Open history, and tied for third lowest in PGA TOUR history.
Russell is a native of Macon, Georgia, and attended the University of Georgia in Athens. Before we open it up to questions, though, we would like to congratulate him. And Russell, tell us how it feels to be playing in your first Masters.
RUSSELL HENLEY: Feels good to get that question finally. It's an unreal feeling. So far just played a practice round with Tom Watson and Nathan Smith, and Tom is such a nice guy, to go out there and chase it around with us. It's such an honor coming up there on the tee and teeing off with him, and being in front of all the people here. There's so many people here and it's just a crazy atmosphere out there, and I can't wait to get the tournament started.
Q. When you played the course before, when you were at University of Georgia, was there one thing playing with Mr. Watson, oh, I didn't know that, or a piece or tidbit of information you picked up today?
RUSSELL HENLEY: Tom Watson's attitude sticks out to me the most when I was out with him today and just how positive he is.
In terms of what he told me about the course, little stuff here and there, how to approach certain greens, but I think the biggest thing out here is just experience. I wish he could tell me the secret and I could use that, but I definitely listened to what he had to say about approach shots into the greens and kind of how he views each hole. It was very interesting to hear.
Q. Just wondering, how did you come to play with Tom? Did you reach out to him or did you reach out to you or how did you guys get together?
RUSSELL HENLEY: They gave me his number in the pro shop. They asked me ‑‑ and I called him (laughter). They asked me who would be two guys you would love to play with in the Masters in a practice round and I said Ben Crenshaw and Tom Watson. Called Tom and he called me right back two hours later and he was friendly as can be, and I'll always remember that, tell my grand kids hopefully.
Q. Can you get specific about certain holes or things what he was telling you how to play this hole or that hole?
RUSSELL HENLEY: Just little stuff, like No. 1, we talked about how he thinks the center of the green there is obviously a great play, and how when he was first walking the course and learning it, he found out very quick to not go left on that hole at any of the pins, and hit a lot of chips from the right.
Like No. 4, when the pin is on the front left, he said, "Don't ever hit it in the right bunker." Just little stuff like that. It wasn't anything too crazy, but just good, simple knowledge to just kind of go by. I feel a lot more confident knowing what he had to say.
Q. What's it like being a Georgia native with so many connections to the state, playing in the state's signature tournament; is there any added pressure to it? Is there any added excitement that comes with that?
RUSSELL HENLEY: Absolutely. I haven't felt like nerves like I did today, not even about how I was going to play but just the excitement of being here and knowing I'm a contestant is a feeling like I've never had. I've played two majors, played some PGA TOUR events, and those are definitely nerve‑wracking at times. But something about walking around here and just knowing the history and just knowing how much it means to me adds to the excitement.
Q. It looked like when you were out there during the practice round, you were constantly scanning the gallery; you must have had a lot of friends, family, calling your name, people who you were connected to just calling you up?
RUSSELL HENLEY: I heard a lot of, "Go Dawgs!" That was cool. Heard a lot of, "Go Jackets!" Didn't really get that one.
I have a lot of friends here today, a lot came into town, some I haven't seen in a while. It was pretty special seeing them. I was just kind of looking for them here and there. I just wanted them to enjoy as much as I did and I think they did.
Q. Can you walk us through any experiences you've had maybe away from the golf course or around the club?
RUSSELL HENLEY: Drove in last night from Charleston. Came straight out here and registered. I was registering and met Ben Crenshaw. He was right there in front of me registering, so it was really nice to meet him. Talked to Bones in the parking lot. Him and Phil were walking into the parking lot when I was pulling up, and Bones was nice enough to come say hey to me. I've seen him a little bit on TOUR.
It was cool having those two moments. I still feel like a kid when I pull in looking at those guys, and obviously I'm very confident in my ability to play the game, but I've been coming here and watching the tournament when they were playing and Phil was playing. To have little moments like that, I still really enjoy those. I met Bones and talked to Mr. Crenshaw and that was pretty cool last night.
Q. Had to feel like a long time waiting to get here, you must be excited that it's finally here?
RUSSELL HENLEY: It felt like a long time but also felt like, I can't believe I've already played a practice round. People talk about how the week flies by, it's so much fun. It's felt like a little bit of a wait, but I've tried to focus as hard as I can on each tournament coming up to prepare myself, but you know, just like before I was in the Masters, the thought of the Masters goes through my head multiple times a day, so it's definitely hard to fight off.
Q. You mentioned the U.S. Open, playing, how will that help you playing in these two before and this week's tournament?
RUSSELL HENLEY: I think any time you can play in front of that many people, it gives you good experience. This one is a little bit different. Feels like they are a little bit closer to you and it feels like there's a lot more people. But I like that. I think it just adds so much more excitement and makes everybody kind of, when they can get that close, a part of the tournament, and I think that's what's so special about this place.
Q. Just wondering, who you're going to play with tomorrow in the practice round, and also the Par 3?
RUSSELL HENLEY: I'm hoping to play with Tim Clark and Nathan Smith again. Nathan, I'm probably going to play all my practice rounds with him. I have a blast with him. I've been buddies with him for a couple years now and feel very comfortable playing with him. We just want to keep it fun and relaxed. Hopefully play with him.
The Par 3, Tom Watson signed up with us. We didn't ask him to, he just did. So that's going to be fun.
Q. Signed up with you and Nathan?
RUSSELL HENLEY: Signed up with me and Nathan, yeah.
Q. Did you and Tom have a moment there on the 9th green? It looked like he pulled out his wallet for a second.
RUSSELL HENLEY: We played some skins. Nathan won the most, but I won a few. We had a little moment ‑‑ we had a bunch of moments out there. It was crazy to me, you've got a legend of the game standing right next to me and I kept, like, whoa, like he's right there, and he's sitting there asking me about my family, talking to me about how to help me with the TOUR and giving me advice. And what a classy guy. I mean, I'll always remember today and being in his group.
So definitely had a few moments with him out there, but yeah, he was paying up. I was probably going to pay up, too.
Q. Just wonder, have you been able to quantify how many times you've played at Augusta National? Didn't you play it every year while you were at Georgia, and do you know how many, counting today, how many times you've played out here?
RUSSELL HENLEY: I think ten times.
Q. Does it help you going into the tournament?
RUSSELL HENLEY: It does. The more I play, walk the course, the more ‑‑ I wouldn't say comfortable; I would say more familiar I feel with the greens.
I think a lot of the tee shots are very different than anywhere else you go, and how to play each hole, you have to think through it a lot more than any other place I've played. But mainly the greens, I feel a little more familiar every time I play. And I'm not going to use the word comfortable, because I haven't played the tournament; but familiar.
Q. Is there any concern about with all of the excitement surrounding you this week, that it will be difficult to kind of focus on the tournament once it gets here?
RUSSELL HENLEY: You know, I think that's why I'm happy, I played a few practice rounds and I'm here Sunday night. I'm trying to soak in being here, soak in the fans, soak in throwing some kids a golf ball or whatever, hitting balls in front of this many people, playing with guys like Tom Watson. Just the whole excitement of it all, I'm trying to get used to that and just kind of get that almost out of the way to where I'm more familiar with it in the next three days so when tournament time starts, I'm ready to go and I'm not trying to goof off too much. I'm right there ready to play some golf.
So it definitely is going to be like any other tournament I've played and more excitement, for sure, but I'll do my best to try to kind of get used to it, to answer your question.
Q. Have you allowed yourself at all to think about what it would be like if a Georgia native were to win this tournament? It doesn't happen very often.
RUSSELL HENLEY: I dream about it every day, winning here. I mean, I've dreamed about playing in this tournament. I've dreamed about winning on the PGA TOUR, and I've accomplished both of those dreams. I've got a lot more on the list, but yeah, I dream about it every day, and try not to get ahead of myself. But you know, it would be very special.
Q. Did Bubba's win help your confidence, a guy you grew up playing with, a Georgia Guy, saying, if he can do it, why can't I kind of a thing?
RUSSELL HENLEY: Yeah, going to Georgia is a huge confidence boost for me. Seeing somebody like that come out, such a natural player and just doing things his way, that's just what's so cool about Bubba, such a special player. And for him to come and win a tournament like this, it makes me feel great about where I'm coming from and what I've done so far.
Yeah, it gives me a lot of confidence and hopefully we can have a few more Georgia players win.
Q. And a quick follow on that, walking down 10, did you see where he hit it from last year and like, how did he pull that off?
RUSSELL HENLEY: I've been by a few times to look, but that's like 50 yards past where I can hit it and in a sprinkler head or two, so I don't even want to go down there (laughter). Hopefully I won't be down there.
I've looked at it. I've played with him, and every shot he hits is impressive, but under the circumstance, that was pretty special.
Q. You won immediately on the Web.com Tour and you won immediately on the PGA TOUR. Has that given you any kind of sense of why not me? Is there something that you learned from breaking through so dramatically and so early in your career on both of those two tours that you can carry into this tournament?
RUSSELL HENLEY: I think so. I definitely think so. If I don't believe that I can do it, then who is?
So I think, like I said, I think about it every day. I think about it a lot. But you know, getting off to the start I did, with both of those tours, is a huge confidence booster for me. So I don't know if I can answer that question completely, but I definitely believe that I can.
Q. Just curious, what aspect of your game were you working on most today? Were you doing a lot of chipping? Was there anything in particular you were focusing on out there?
RUSSELL HENLEY: Just trying to get comfortable. I feel great about my game. I felt great about every aspect of my game the last few events. I haven't finished that high, but mainly that's been course management and knowing the golf course, making a few dumb decisions course management‑wise.
I feel great good my game, nothing I'm working on too much out there. Just getting familiar with the course and getting used to hitting in front of all those people is kind of what I'm getting used to.