University of Georgia senior Russell Henley became the second amateur winner in Nationwide Tour history, and he did so on his home course. Henley was tied for the 54-hole lead at the Stadion Classic, then shot 68 May 8 at the University of Georgia Golf Course to win by two shots. He finished at 12-under 272.
“I knew that if I played fearless golf, went with my first instinct and had as much fun as I possibly could, I’d shoot a good score,” Henley said. “It was definitely harder to commit to my shots today. I had a lot of adrenaline.”
1. Henley made headlines at last year’s U.S. Open, not only for his impressive tie for 16th but the way he joyfully interacted with the galleries at Pebble Beach. He gave the home fans in Athens plenty to cheer about Sunday.
Ryan Lavner caught up with Georgia senior Russell Henley after his win at the Stadion Classic at UGA. Read his Q&A here.
He also gave U.S. Walker Cup captain Jim Holtgrieve reason to be excited. Henley, the 2010 Golfweek College Player of the Year, will graduate from Georgia on Friday with a degree in housing and consumer economics. Henley is a virtual lock for the team, and said he will wait until after the Walker Cup to turn professional. The Stadion victory guarantees him Nationwide Tour status for 2012.
Henley’s summer schedule includes the Palmer Cup, Northeast Amateur, Southern Amateur, Porter Cup, Western Amateur, U.S. Amateur and finally the Walker Cup in September. Georgia will compete in NCAA regionals next week, followed by the NCAA Championship on May 31-June 5.
“They talk about how much money you can make playing pro golf, but I’ve never played golf to win money,” he said. “I love to play golf and I love to compete, and there are a lot of amateur tournaments I want to play in.”
The first amateur to win on the Nationwide Tour, Daniel Summerhays, turned pro immediately after capturing the 2007 Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational, choosing not to pursue a spot on that year’s Walker Cup team.
Henley needed a strong performance at last month’s SEC Championship to clinch his spot in the Stadion, which offers an exemption to the two Georgia players with the lowest scoring averages.
Harris English was four shots ahead of Henley and Hudson Swafford entering the SEC Championship. Henley tied for sixth at the conference championship to pass his two teammates. Harris English nabbed the second spot. He tied for 18th at the Stadion.
Because they finished in the top 25, Henley and English are eligible for the Nationwide Tour’s Melwood Prince George’s County Open on June 2-5. That event conflicts with the NCAA Championship, but could give the players a nice consolation prize should Georgia fail to qualify for the national championship.
This is the second consecutive year that Henley and English have made the cut at the Stadion Classic.
2. Stadion runner-up Troy Kelly claimed the first-place check of $99,000 because Henley is an amateur. Second place would’ve been worth $59,400. That extra $39,600 will come in handy at the end of the season. Kelly, now fifth on the Nationwide Tour money list, Monday qualified for the previous week’s South Georgia Classic, then finished 24th to get into the Stadion (the top 25 finishers each week get in the following event).
3. Sometimes a single putt can define a season. Will Wilcox made a 15-foot birdie putt on his 18th hole of Monday qualifying for the Stadion Classic. That last putt kept him from having to compete in an 8-for-1 playoff for the final spot in the Stadion.
Wilcox, who attended Clayton State in Georgia, earned $48,400 for his tie for third in the Stadion. It was good enough for him to gain Nationwide Tour status for the remainder of the season. A player earns status on the tour by surpassing No. 100 on the previous year’s money list ($48,193).
A tie for third normally would’ve been worth $31,900, but Wilcox and Matt Hendrix earned second-place money because Henley is an amateur.
“My goal was to make the top 25 (in the tournament),” said Wilcox, who started the final round in seventh place. “When I made eagle on 17, I was like, ‘Shoot, I could pull something off here.’ ”
Wilcox was the 2010 Hooters Tour rookie of the year. He won on the Hooters and Canadian tours last year. He had a victory and a runner-up in his three Hooters Tour starts leading into the Stadion.
Four golfers have played their way into Nationwide Tour status in the past three events: Russell Knox (2nd, Fresh Express Classic), Ted Potter (1st, South Georgia Classic), and Wilcox and Hendrix (T-3, Stadion Classic).
Just one golfer played his way into special temporary membership all of last year.
4. While former Clemson teammates Jonathan Byrd and Lucas Glover were duking it out in a playoff at the Wells Fargo Championship, another ex-Tiger, Matt Hendrix, was contending for a Nationwide Tour title. Hendrix fell short but moved to 11th on the money list and earned Nationwide Tour status for the rest of the year.
Hendrix had to Monday qualify for the previous week’s South Georgia Classic. His 10th-place finish there got him into the Stadion, where he tied for third.
5. Five players moved into the top 25 of the Nationwide Tour money list after the Stadion Classic. The top 25 at season’s end earn PGA Tour cards. Among those was Danny Lee, who finished fifth in Athens. Lee, the 2008 U.S. Amateur champion, is splitting time between the Nationwide and European tours this season. He’ll compete in the Nationwide Tour’s BMW Charity Pro-Am on May 19-22, then return to Europe for the BMW PGA Championship on May 26-29 and the Wales Open on June 2-5 before deciding which tour to focus on for the remainder of the year.
Lee is in the last year of his European Tour winner’s exemption from his 2009 Johnnie Walker Classic victory. He earned Nationwide Tour status at last year’s Q-School. Lee recently finished second at the European Tour’s Volvo China Open.
MOVED INSIDE THE TOP 25
Place. Name, Earnings (Previous place)
• 5. Troy Kelly, $107,642 (78th)
• 11. Matt Hendrix, $64,025 (60th)
• 22. Will Wilcox, $48,400 (NR)
• 23. Danny Lee, $43,536 (42nd)
• 25. Brad Elder, $39,841 (53rd)