Russell Henley didn’t come out of nowhere to win the Sony Open in January. He reached Honolulu from his native Macon, Ga., via a new residence in Charleston, where he has lived for almost a year. But winning a PGA tournament the very first week on tour made for instant fame.
Defending champion Bubba Watson isn’t the only former University of Georgia golfer drawing major Masters attention — Henley has been asked to keep a diary for the official Masters web site.
Old friends from Georgia and new friends in the Lowcountry — including his many playing partners at the Country Club of Charleston and the Daniel Island Club — will be pulling for Henley when he tees off on Thursday, the day before his 24th birthday.
Henley, an accomplished guitar player and boat owner, talked golf, food, music and fishing with The Post and Courier’s Gene Sapakoff:
Q: What’s it been like adjusting to the sudden fame that comes with winning a PGA Tour event so early?
A: “It is always nice to get recognized for your achievements. I have been very fortunate to have the successes I have had at an early age, and I am very appreciative of all of the people that have been so supportive of me.”
Q: How have you adjusted your life and schedule, and have you had to work at being ‘level-headed’?
A: “Golf is a very humbling game, so it is very easy to keep a level head. After my win, I had the opportunity to set my schedule so that I would be able to pace myself and be as fresh as possible for every event I play in.”
Q: Were you surprised to learn you were the first PGA Tour player to win in a debut tournament in 10 years?
A: “Yes, I was surprised. With all of the new talented players that come out on tour every year, I figured that it would have happened at some point more recently.”
Q: What are your earliest Masters memories?
A: “Watching Tiger’s win in 1997 on television.”
Q: You got to play at Augusta in college. But after your win in Hawaii, you got to play some practice rounds knowing you would return to play in the Masters. What was that like?
A: “It is obviously very exciting, but honestly, I don’t think it will really hit me until the week of the tournament.”
Q: In high school, you won three Georgia state championships, and at Georgia you set a school record with eight tournament wins. Does that come to mind and help on the PGA Tour?
A: “Every tournament I have ever played in helps me. I feel like I learn something from every tournament, whether I play well or not.”
Q: What do you like most about Charleston?
A: “It is such a beautiful and fun city. I really like the atmosphere and feel of Charleston.”
Q: Where are your favorite places to eat in Charleston?
Q: How long have you played guitar?
A: “Since the 8th grade.”
Q: Acoustic? Electric? Both?
A: “I play acoustic.”
Q: Favorite bands?
A: “Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, and any band Chris Cornell has been in.”
Q: Have you played publicly?
A: “I have gotten on stage with a few friends that are in bands and played with them a couple of times, but nowhere with a really big crowd.”
Q: I hear you have a boat. What kind, and where do you like to fish in Charleston?
A: “It’s a Sea Pro 17. I like fishing by Sullivan’s Island and IOP.”
Q: How do you maintain a sharp competitive edge while also trying to have fun and smelling the roses?
A: “I try to keep a balance in life. I love golf and love working to get better, but I also try and take a couple of days off when I am at home on an off week, to give myself a bit of a break and also to stay fresh for the next set of tournaments I will be playing in.”
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.