LA QUINTA, Calif. –- Watching Russell Henley march up the Humana Challenge leaderboard Thursday, one question comes to mind: Will his ascent continue?
Henley, 23, shot 8-under 64 at the Nicklaus Private course, one of three sites for the Humana Challenge, to share fourth place, one stroke behind co-leaders Roberto Castro, Jason Kokrak and James Hahn.
Henley, a former Georgia All-American from Macon, Ga., is playing in only his second event as a PGA Tour member. Of course, that debut in last week’s Sony Open was notable: He won it impressively.
Henley is a mix of gunslinger and gambler. He’s not afraid to go out and draw against the best, and he’s willing to ride a hot streak for as long as it stays hot.
Yet for all the sudden attention here, Henley knows his limitations. He employs a simple strategy on the golf course.
“I know a lot of guys like to curve it, and I’ve never done that,” said Henley, who qualified for the Tour from the Web.com Tour last year. “I just stick to what I know how to do. However it feels on the range, I go play with it. I stick to the same putting routine that I’ve always had. I just try to do what I do.”
Henley added that he tries to put himself in situations on the course where he doesn’t have to do anything unusual. In short, limit the mistakes and take advantage when possible.
Now, Henley is at it again, quickly climbing into contention in the opener of the Tour’s West Coast swing.
In five rounds as a PGA Tour rookie, Henley is 32 under.
“I gave myself a lot of good chances, and it could have been lower, could have been higher,” said Henley, who made an eagle and seven birdies against one bogey. “I felt great about the putter and just stayed patient, and it was a really good day. I’m very happy with it.”
At this point in the 2012 season, Brandt Snedeker hadn’t even played an event on the PGA Tour, yet he eventually won the FedEx Cup as the season’s points leader.
Johnson Wagner, the 2012 Sony Open winner and runner-up at Humana, was in the top 8 of the Ryder Cup points list after Week 2 and never made it to Medinah (Ill.) Country Club for the Ryder Cup.
So what does the future hold for Henley? What will it be like when he starts seeing Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and the cadre of players who won’t make their Tour debuts until later in the season?
It’s way too early to tell, but Henley is proving early in his rookie season that he belongs out here.
He’s also part of a revolution, with younger, stronger and talented athletes making their way onto the PGA Tour.
Henley is doing his part to add another dimension to the beginning of the Tour season.