A three-time All-American at Georgia, the Macon, Ga., native won in just his third official PGA Tour start, and the opening event of this year, the Sony Open in Hawaii. Henley didn’t win, though; he blew away the field, topping veteran Tim Clark by three shots and posting rounds of 63-63-67-63 for a whopping 24-under par total.
Since then, he says, his biggest challenge has been adjusting to his new status as a young star.
“After a quick start like that, coming down off that is somewhat difficult, especially with my expectations,” Henley says. “When you win that quickly, you feel like all of a sudden everything has changed, and you’ve changed. But I’m still trying to just get better every day, and I’m getting the feel of (being a Tour champion).”
The pressure was apparent at Augusta National, where he shot a second-round 81 and missed the cut in his first Masters appearance. “For me, it was a little too much – all the buildup – and it was hard to jut go play golf,” he says. “But I’ll be better prepared next time.”
He’s also getting used to being a new South Carolina resident, having moved to Daniel Island in 2012. “I went there and started visiting (his girlfriend) last year, playing some golf, and fell in love with the area,” Henley says. “I’ve made some friends, and it’s been a blast ever since.
“It’s fun. But I’m definitely NOT a Gamecock or anything like that,” he adds with a laugh.
Henley is learning about the pride and allegiance that South Carolina’s PGA Tour players feel toward the RBC Heritage, the state’s lone annual Tour event. “Those guys (from the state) have got a lot of experience” at Harbour Town Golf Links, he says. “You’ve got to know where to hit it and practice course management.”
Henley showed he has those skills at the Pete Dye-Jack Nicklaus design, rebounding from a 2-over par 73 in the first round to close 70-67-69 and tie for sixth. When he got to Hilton Head from Augusta, though, Henley – like many Masters’ participants – first breathed a deep sigh of relief, just happy to be at the island resort, with its low-key vibe.
“You’re at the beach, with the beautiful views, and it’s a lot of fun to play out here,” he said that week. “The weather’s always great, and it seems like there’s a big party going on outside the golf course. Definitely a different kind of feel (from Augusta), but I’m still excited to be here.”
He was speaking of Harbour Town, but Henley could’ve been referring to the PGA Tour, too. He’s won $1.55 million in his first five months, putting him on track to follow in the footsteps of Jonathan Byrd, who won PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 2002, and Dustin Johnson, winner of seven events in his first six seasons.
Given that quick start, South Carolina golf fans should be excited to adopt and follow Henley as one of their own.
Hometown: Macon, Ga.; lives at Daniel Island
Bio: Three-time All-American at Georgia including first team and SEC Player of the Year as a senior; turned pro in late 2011 and won twice on the Web.com Tour in 2012, finishing third on the tour’s money list; won the 2013 Sony Open in Hawaii in his third official PGA Tour start.
Highlights: Won seven times during college career at Georgia to tie school record; finalist for the Ben Hogan Award; led Bulldogs to two SEC titles; was low amateur at the U.S. Open; shot a tournament-record 256 (24-under) in claiming this year’s Sony Open title by three shots.
Where I eat: “I live in Charleston now, so I like a lot of the restaurants there. Favorites are Anson’s, Hank’s and Paulz sometimes. I also like Fig, all those places. And there’s a place, Mondo’s, on James Island that’s good, too.”
What I do for fun: “We like to hang out in downtown Charleston, go to concerts there and just listen to a lot of music. I also like to go fishing around the area, and I enjoy when I play some guitar with friends.”