Summary of his round
I feel like I rode a little bit of momentum from last week in Houston in today's round.
I felt like last week I hit my driver really well and hit a lot of fairways, also hit a lot of greens, and just with a couple little simple swing thoughts that didn't really feel like I was doing much, but really have been working for me and have just been riding that momentum last week.
For some reason today on the first tee, I wasn't quite as nervy as the last two years, and just had a ball today. Obviously it's fun to shoot under par at Augusta, and I'm just very thankful I could finally shoot one in the 60s.
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Q. I was talking with Scott outside and he talked about how you prepared for this week and how you really took it light, and only played nine on Tuesday and Wednesday. Was that the plan all along and how has that benefitted?
RUSSELL HENLEY: Yeah, for me, you ask all of the closest people around me, whenever I start taking things too serious and putting a lot of pressure on myself, trying to be structured, like you feel like you're supposed to be out here when you get out here on Tour and you feel like you're supposed to have the workout coach and the mental guy and the swing coach with you at all times; and you're supposed to practice when you get done, all that.
I feel like when I get into that mind set, I become a very average player. And when I just show up like I got invited at the last minute, just to have fun, I'm a lot more fun to be around and I play better. So I took it very light, took last week light. I'm going to try to keep doing that till it stops working.
Q. I wanted to ask you about how do you separate the having fun part to being extra focused, knowing the obvious tournament that you're in, but at the same time, you want to enjoy every second of it?
RUSSELL HENLEY: Well, I'm still trying to develop perspective on my life. I feel like when I can accept the fact that this game, how I play in this tournament is not going to define who I am when I drive out of here today, it makes it a lot more fun game. It makes me enjoy the game. When I feel like it's who I am, I don't like the game at all.
I feel like when I can get that into my head I'm very stubborn; when I can get that into my head and believe that truly, it just takes a lot of pressure off of me and I love golf. That's the perspective I try to take, and for me, that makes it fun.
Q. What kind of lessons did you take from your first six rounds at Augusta? Some of them were a little painful, I imagine. What did you take from those and can you apply it to the rest of the week?
RUSSELL HENLEY: Painful. Some of them were painful, huh? I feel like you can't play here enough times. I feel like the more Masters you play in, hopefully the more comfortable you get with the golf course.
I feel like this place has so much course knowledge and it's just so tricky, and it makes you really think. I just think the experience of just trying to learn how my body reacts when there's this much hype around the golf or around four rounds of golf, try to take that and play with it.
So the main thing that you learn I think around here, I was just telling some guys outside, is where not to hit it. You try to focus on where to hit it, but you also have to focus on where not to, because a lot of times, you can hit it, be on one side of the hole and be completely out of the hole or be 40 yards right of it and still be in the hole.
So it's a tricky one, and I just try to just learn from the six times I've played with the course management and writing it down in the books and reminding myself. Other than that, it's just hard.
Q. You were talking about realizing that structure that type of structure isn't always the best thing for you. When did you realize that, or has it just been a gradual realization?
RUSSELL HENLEY: It's gradual. I mean, on the West Coast last year, the start of the year, I remember I was grinding so hard and practicing when I got done, and just really working on my game really hard.
And then finally, it was like, I just can't keep doing this, I'm driving myself crazy. I remember thinking that Thursday night when I was in almost last place at Riviera and the next day I went out and shot 66 and almost made the cut. And a week later I won the Honda. It's like I do it without even realizing it.
I think I'm starting to realize it more and more as I see, look back through college and pro tournaments and being out here for my third year, my tendencies with that.
Q. I remember some of the people back home talking about you were a guy who played different sports and always wanted the ball and weren't just a golfer exclusively. Does that work into that, what you're talking about, the fact that you approach golf the way you would approach basketball or other sports?
RUSSELL HENLEY: I think so. I loved other sports growing up. I wanted to play college basketball but that probably I think I chose the right sport (laughs).
Yeah, I loved other sports, and I think that the reason that I never got burned out with golf is because I did play basketball through high school. I think if I had to play it year round, I think I would have gotten tired of it.
I'm still figuring out the formula. I'm not saying I have it figured it out. But as of late, I've been not being so structured, and it's working out for me. So that's all I can say.
Q. What did you do coming in to get rid of the structure and have that last minute, let's have fun feeling?
RUSSELL HENLEY: After Bay Hill I was talking to Thomas Parker at lunch and I was absolutely furious because I felt like every time I'd tee it up I was going to finish 50th. I was good enough to make the cut and then I'd finish 50th. I just got on this roll where I have done a bunch of tournaments in a row, and everybody around me encouraged me to go home and don't play golf for a week.
So I went back to Charleston and I didn't pick up the clubs the week before Houston, I didn't pick them up for seven days and just either laid on the couch or went on the boat and hung out. Showed up at Houston fresh, and I liked it again. So that's about all I know.
Q. Today's round, you make a couple of early par putts and then you make a birdie on 5. How did that get your round going after that birdie on 5?
RUSSELL HENLEY: It was great.
I thought that on 3, I hit a pretty decent putt, and then I ended up actually almost going off the green, and made that coming back. And that gave me some confidence.
Heard my brother yell in the crowd and that made me laugh and loosened me up a little bit.
On 4, I made a nice 15 footer, or I don't know how long that was, for par. From there, I felt like I was going to make everything. So it was just kind of a momentum thing, I guess.
Q. Honda, tough golf course; Sony, a tight golf course; even going back to the Web.com, that week, you remember the courses set up pretty tough and everything. Is this a pattern that you seem to play better when courses are difficult?
RUSSELL HENLEY: Sometimes I do (laughter). I can think of a lot where I haven't played very well.
Yeah, I grew up on a tree lined course. I feel like I can see the shot a little bit better when there's big trees lining the fairways.
I love Hilton Head. I love playing that one.
Yeah, I think like the Sony is such a simple course, and everything is very narrow. I feel like maybe that narrows my focus a little bit. I haven't really figured out what it is, but I do enjoy playing the tighter ones, for sure.
Q. Could you talk about that stretch of 4, 5 and 6, and how that plays important early in the round, what role that can do to either get you going or not get you going.
RUSSELL HENLEY: Right, it is. I hit a pretty poor iron shot on 4, and had a tough up and down. And making that putt, I felt like I was going to make it, but you know, it's hard to control your emotions out there, for sure. I felt like if I can control that, I could hang in there.
But for me, making that putt on 3 led to the putt on 4, which led to the putt on 5. And for sure, those holes are I don't know if I call them underrated, but I feel like everybody likes to talk about the back nine.
The front nine is super challenging, as well. If you can stick around par, that definitely helps the momentum, for sure, going into the back nine.
Q. How much inside of you says, "Hey, I did this today, why can't I do this for four days out here?"
RUSSELL HENLEY: Well, I know I want to. I know I can. I think the course is going to get harder and harder. I know it did last year, and the pressure gets more and more. I know I can do it, and I think it's going to be mental with me. Just believing in myself and enjoying it.
If I can do that, I could have a chance. But it's so hard to say. It's just so much golf left.
Q. How much did you come here while you were in school or in high school, any of those things? How far do you go back with this place?
RUSSELL HENLEY: Way back. Been coming here since I was barely a teenager with the Barnetts, Matthews and Madison Barnett, they are out here today, guys I grew up with. Their dad used to take us before he passed. So I have very, very good memories of this place coming over as a junior golfer.
I can remember on No. 2 with Matthews one year, his dad took us, we came over, and I remember reaching down late in the day and touching the grass; being like, whoa, this is amazing. Every once in a while, I try to pinch myself and realize that I'm playing in it now. But it's a very special place and very special memories for me so far.
Q. Being a local, what's the atmosphere out there being a relative local to this tournament?
RUSSELL HENLEY: You hear a lot of "Go Dawgs!" I hear a lot of "Macon, Georgia." Those are things people are yelling at me, "Macon, Georgia", "Go Dawgs!", "Charleston", a lot of that.
It's fun. It's fun to have people rooting for you and encouraging you for sure. I really try to enjoy that. Last year I got to play with Harris here in the first two rounds and that was a lot of fun. I think we heard about 2,000 "Go Dawgs!" the first two days.
But it's a blast and it's nice to get some attention.
Q. That perspective you talked about of not letting your golf define you is something Bubba has talked about quite a lot. Have y'all discussed that?
RUSSELL HENLEY: I'd love to take some advice from Bubba. He obviously knows what he's doing and he's been super successful. We haven't talked about that, but, you know, I think the way Bubba plays, you can tell he's just being himself out there and playing the way he wants to play and he's enjoying himself.
I'll take any advice I can get from those guys. He's definitely somebody to model your game after for sure, because his perspective, it seems like he's very loose and very happy no matter what happens.
Q. When you made the first birdies, did you feel that momentum hole to hole?
RUSSELL HENLEY: I do, for me, I start craving it; let's go do it again, let's go do it again. I think for sure it builds. Gave me a lot of confidence.
The putt on 14 was one of the best putts I've ever made out here, super tricky to read. And only reason I made that is just because I finished on the wrong side of the hole a bunch of times. That gave me a lot of confidence going into the last couple.
Q. Do you remember the first time you played, was that when you were a freshman at Georgia when coach brought you up?
RUSSELL HENLEY: Yes, May 7, 2008.
Q. Do you remember anything about it?
RUSSELL HENLEY: I remember it was warm. I remember I shot 73. I remember I was really nervous. I remember I just moved out of my dorms in Athens. It was my last day living in McWhorter Hall as a freshman in Georgia. I just remember just being on cloud nine the whole day. Good memories.
Q. How did you develop your putting, your short game touch, and does it have any connection to your basketball history?
RUSSELL HENLEY: It might. I think in college, majority of the time we were there, it was always kind of windy on that range. I felt like every time I hit balls, I developed a bad habit. So I would just chip and putt, that's about all I did when I would practice. The chipping and putting area in Athens, University of Georgia course, it's world class, it's unbelievable.
I spent a lot of time doing that in college and I guess the more you do it, the more confidence you get. Still feel like I can always improve.
I definitely like to feel like I'm shooting or going fast. I don't try to go fast, but I try to react with my chipping and putting for sure. The longer I stand the longer I'm still, the worse I am. I've got to keep working. So definitely developed that for sure, just trying to be more reactive.
Q. And do you worry less about the comeback 5 footer here that maybe other players or do you worry about it at all?
RUSSELL HENLEY: This place makes you want to be really careful. The hype, it's the first major of the year, makes you want to be a little tentative.
But after playing two years, I'd rather go after it and try to shoot a good score and maybe 3 putt every once in awhile than, you know, play a little tentatively. I think it's more fun to go after it.
For sure, I might 3 putt a couple times a week, I might 4 putt, I don't know what's going to happen, but I'm definitely going to go after it and try to make the putt every time.