AUGUSTA -- Russell Henley tends to play his best golf when he is relaxed and not stressing over the results. Just play and see what happens.
He said recently that was his plan for the Masters this week at Augusta National Golf Club.
Through one round, that game plan has worked perfectly as Henley fired a 4-under-par 68 on Thursday. In his third trip to the Masters, it marked the first time he has shot a round in the 60s.
“For me, if 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 the tour,” Henley said. “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.
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“I feel like when I get into that mindset, 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 until it stops working.”
Henley didn’t get knocked off his plan by any bad shots he had Thursday -- not that there were many. Instead, if he did have one off the mark a bit, he shook it off, refocused and made the most of the next shot.
That happened on Nos. 3 and 4 when he made terrific par putts -- on No. 3 after pushing his birdie putt past the hole and on No. 4 after he hit his tee shot into the sand trap. It happened on No. 9 when he drove his tee shot into the trees right of the fairway. His next shot was played perfectly into the middle of the green, and he made the lengthy birdie putt for a front-nine 33.
After his only bogey at No. 11, Henley responded with birdies on Nos. 14 and 15. On No. 14, he made a 28-foot putt that he called one of the best putts he has made in this tournament. And on No. 15, he reached the green in two and then two-putted for a birdie.
“I’m still trying to develop perspective on my life,” Henley said. “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, 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.”
That’s the focus he will try to have the rest of this tournament as he attempts to make his first real run at a major title.
“Well, I know I want to. I know I can,” Henley said. “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.”
Contact Daniel Shirley at 744-4227 or firstname.lastname@example.org