Henley soars into first-place tie at Georgia Amateur

COLUMBUS — Jeff Knox remembers watching Russell Henley early in his high school career.

Then the head golf coach at Augusta Prep, Knox was impressed watching the high school freshman near the beginning of his career.

“You could tell he would be special,” said Knox, the two-time defending Georgia Mid-Amateur champion.

So Knox wasn’t surprised by Henley’s performance Friday in the second round of the Georgia Amateur Championship at the Country Club of Columbus.

The Stratford product and Georgia standout stormed into a share of the lead with a tournament-best round of 6-under-par 65 that included eight birdies.

The defending champion was 6 under through 10 holes, and he erased his only back-nine bogey with a birdie on his final hole of the day. The stellar round pushed him to 8 under for the tournament and into a tie for first with perennial contender David Noll Jr., who was in the final group last year when Henley won the title at Idle Hour Club.

“It was fun to watch, especially with the way he was putting,” Knox said.

Henley actually got off to a bad start, bogeying his second hole of the day — the par-4 11th hole — to drop back to 1 under.

“I’m not letting my bogeys get to me,” Henley said. “These greens are tricky, and you’re going to miss putts. I’m not going to let it get to me. You just have to stay patient.”

The 20-year-old got his putter rolling on the next hole, sinking a seven-foot birdie putt and following that with a 20-foot birdie on No. 13. He stuck his approach shot to within two feet on No. 14 and made the short birdie putt.

Henley chipped in from 12 feet on No. 16 for birdie and finished his first nine holes with birdies on Nos. 17 and 18 for a 30 on the back nine.

“I’ve just made some putts,” Henley said. “I feel pretty good about the putter. I’ve tried to be aggressive, but not do anything stupid.

Henley birdied No. 1 to get to 8 under for the tournament before giving a shot back with a bogey on the par-3 5th hole. He got it back to 8 under, however, with a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 9, his final hole of the day.

“I think I could have done a lot better, but I can’t really complain,” said Henley, reflecting on his torrid first nine holes and his par-heavy second nine. “I think that’s the way a lot of 65s are. Coulda, woulda, shoulda. That’s golf. You can’t expect to make every putt.”

Henley’s 65 gives him six consecutive rounds in the 60s in the state amateur. He shot under 70 in all four rounds last year at Idle Hour and posted a 69 in the first round here Thursday.

Henley’s teammates at Georgia, Michael Green and Harris English, are two and three shots back, respectively. English won the 2007 Georgia Amateur Championship and finished second last year.

Henley will be grouped with Noll Jr. and Green in the final grouping of the third round at 10:20 a.m. today.

A number of other local golfers made the cut, but only Mercer standout Bill Jones and former Bleckley County star Joe Young join Henley in the top 20.

Jones posted an even-par second round to stay at 1 over in a tie for 13th.

Young shot a 74 on Friday to fall back to 3 over.

Warner Robins’ Benjamin Kishigian is a shot back of Young. Mercer’s Ryan Blackburn is at 6 over, while Stratford standout Thomas Holmes is at 7 over. Macon’s John Walker and Coleman Tidwell are both at 8 over. Perry’s Mitch Greer was just under the cut line at 9 over.