Henley leaves Gay's bag for St. Jude start

Brian Gay, right, celebrates with caddie Kip Henley at the 2010 St. Jude Classic.

Brian Gay, right, celebrates with caddie Kip Henley at the 2010 St. Jude Classic.

Admittedly, Kip Henley is bringing down the overall quality of the field at this week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic. “Hey, it’s almost a miracle I’m in,” said the longtime caddie for Brian Gay. “Don’t laugh at my scores.”

But by accepting the automatic berth that goes to the Tennessee PGA Section champion, Henley is personally raising the quality of the caddie pool by miles. He’s signed up daughter Stormi Henley to be his caddie.

He knows you’ll go rushing to Google images, or perhaps You Tube for Stormi’s “American Idol” and “Miss Teen USA” performances, which is fine with him. The message is clear, especially to Henley’s fellow caddies: “I’ve told ’em all, you can look, but you cannot touch.”

Laughing heartily, Kip Henley knows at least the first two days of this week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic at TPC Southwind in Memphis will be partly surreal, totally fun, though tinged with a bit of apprehension. After all, “It might be the worst financial decision I’ve ever made, the dumbest thing I’ve ever done,” he said.

Here’s why he says that: The Memphis stop over the past five years has easily been the most profitable tournament for Brian Gay, and by extension, Kip Henley. With Gay having won in 2009, finished fourth in ’07 and tossed in a T-15 and T-16, he has earned $1,460,692 over the past years at Memphis.

But putting the money aside, Kip Henley realizes this is an opportunity he can’t pass up. Years before he jumped into the caddie business, Kip Henley was a club pro in his native Tennessee, then he tried to make it as a player.

“No one tried harder and got less out of it than ol’ Kipper,” he said. “I paid a fortune in Q-School fees for probably 12 years.”

He has maintained his Class A standing with the PGA of America for years, but figures he won’t put in the required hours to keep it, so why not go out with a vintage memory? Last fall, for reasons he still doesn’t understand, Kip Henley played in the Tennessee PGA Section championship, “even though I hadn’t broken par all year.”

Talk about the blind squirrel finding a nut. “I shot 10 under for 54 holes,” Henley said. “Like I said, a miracle. I stood on the 16th hole in the final round and made birdie on 16, 17 and 18, with my hands shaking.”

He said he wrestled with his decision for months: take the spot in the FedEx St. Jude Classic field or not. “I didn’t know for sure what I’d do until a few weeks ago,” he said. Gay wholeheartedly gave his support to Henley’s decision, but the next obstacle was a caddie.

Stormi was always a possibility.

“Through the years, when I’d play mini-tours and the Hooters Tour, she caddied for me a bunch of times and did a good job,” he said. “She lives in L.A. now, has a modeling career, and is busy, but she said she wanted to do it. It’s going to be even more fun with her there.”

About an hour before Henley’s opening round, Stormi, 20, was spotted sitting on the edge of the practice putting green, legs crossed. Hey, it was 95 degrees Thursday with radiant sunshine.

“It’s exciting that he asked me to do it,” she said. “I never get to see him since I live in L.A., so it’s family time, at least.”

Now, Kip Henley absolutely is going to take advantage of all the perks that go to players, but not the caddies. While his brethren are down at the “caddie barn,” Henley will be making great use of his access to the clubhouse and players’ lounge, to delicious food and cold drinks. And, no, he’s not worried about leaving Stormi in the company of all those caddies.

“They’ll know, they'll know,” Kip Henley said with a laugh. “And I’ve already told Stormi I’ll never let her date a caddie or a player.”

– Ryan Lavner contributed from Memphis

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