Q&A: Georgia senior Russell Henley
Russell Henley, a senior at the University of Georgia, became only the second amateur to win on the Nationwide Tour when he broke through in front of the hometown fans May 8 at the Stadion Classic at UGA. Now comes a big decision: Henley has 60 days to decide whether to take up Nationwide Tour membership or remain amateur through the summer; he is a virtual lock to make the U.S. Walker Cup team in September.
Henley spoke with Golfweek after his victory in Athens:
How do you feel right now?
It hasn’t hit me yet. It’s very special considering all my friends got to watch me play. So to do it in front of them was very special. There were a ton of Georgia fans cheering for me. It’s sure nice to have a Dawg win this.
Which way are you leaning: Will you take up Nationwide membership or remain amateur through the summer?
I’m probably going to stay amateur. The Walker Cup is a big deal for me. I’m going to meet with my coach and family in the next couple of days, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to stay amateur.
Were you nervous before the round?
I woke up this morning at 7, when I tried to sleep in until 9. I went for a jog, trying to loosen myself up. I felt really relaxed the whole day. I wasn’t afraid, but I got a little more nervous as the day went on. I just tried to stay confident and stay committed.
I heard you texted Georgia coach Chris Haack before the round?
I told him that I couldn’t sleep. I had the same feeling at the state amateur two years ago. I had the lead going into the last day and was really uneasy. But this time, I was really excited. It felt like Christmas morning when I was 7 years old.
Take me through your round a little bit.
Nothing really bothered me that much, because I felt like I could birdie any hole out there. I hit it down the right side in the rough on No. 1, but it kicked under a tree. I ended up making bogey. It was a weird starting hole, but I knew I wasn’t going to let anything bother me. I made birdie on the next one and was on my way.
What happened on 18?
I hit it left and close to the root. There was a tree 10 feet in front of me and to the right. About 100 yards up left, I had to go over that limb and inside the tree on the right. It was a tough task. I had a hard time committing to it. I swung at it aggressively and hit it just left of the green. I had a great line to the pin and chipped up to 2 feet. I didn’t exactly know where I was.
What was the feeling when you tapped in for par and the win?
Everyone went nuts. I didn’t know what was going on. It was a great feeling. It was a big sigh of relief; it’s hard to put into words.
Did you have a disappointing season (one victory) by your standards?
I was trying to be a little too perfect. A lot of it was my own doing, and I couldn’t get anything going. I tried to do my best off the course and work hard and put myself in good situations for success.
When did your game turn around?
I guess at SECs. It was tough conditions, and I ended up losing by three. I kind of realized that if I’m keeping the ball in front of me, the game is much easier.
What tweaks did you make to your swing?
I was taking the club back really far and letting my wrists break down, instead of keeping my hands firm. Now, the ball is going a lot straighter.