Almost 5,000 miles separated Russell Henley from those closest to him Sunday evening when he won the PGA Tour’s Sony Open in Hawaii.
Age: 23Hometown: Macon, Ga. (resides Sea Island, Ga.)College: University of GeorgiaLocal Connection: Joined the Country Club of Charleston last OctoberNotable: In first start as a PGA Tour member, won 2013 Sony Open in Hawaii and $1,008,000 Sunday with third-best 72-hole score in PGA Tour history, shooting 256, 24-under-par.
He acknowledged their absence during the awards presentation. And thanks to cell phones and FaceTime, Henley was able to share some of the special moment with his parents in Macon, Ga., and his girlfriend Molly Rumph, who lives in Charleston. He also received plenty of texts and emails from the membership of the Country Club of Charleston, which has embraced the 23-year-old since he joined last fall.
“A bunch of us have sent messages all week and he responded back,” said Gettys Glaze, who is the club champion at the Country Club of Charleston. “It was a good day for all of us.”
Henley became the first PGA Tour rookie in 10 years to win in his debut, and his 24-under-par performance was the third- lowest 72-hole score in PGA Tour history. Henley’s win earned him a two-year exemption to continue playing the PGA Tour and also qualified him to play in the Masters, the PGA Championship and The Players Championship. Oh, and he received a check for $1,008,000.
Attempts to reach Henley, who was traveling from Hawaii to California for this week’s PGA Tour event, were unsuccessful Monday.
Dream come true
“It’s like a dream. We’re all on top of the world,” said Rumph, an interior designer and sales representative who moved to Charleston last May. Rumph recently changed jobs and had to be in Atlanta this week. Otherwise, she would have been in Hawaii.
“It’s the one week of the year I cannot miss with my new job,” she said. “I had to work really late Sunday. As soon as I got off, my co-workers and I ran across the street to a bar and got to watch the last nine holes. I was in shock. I was so very excited for him. I definitely shed a few tears.
“He FaceTimed me on our iPhones, so I got to see him with all his leis. He was all smiles. It was very exciting.”
Rumph, 22, said she and Henley have known each other since they were youngsters and began dating seven years ago. He grew up in Macon, Ga., and she grew up in Montezuma, Ga., a small town in the same county.
“I always knew it was going to happen, but I didn’t think it would be this soon,” she said. “I wish I could have been there.”
Rumph said Charleston seemed like the perfect fit for her after graduation from Georgia. She wanted to live by the beach and liked the lifestyle Charleston afforded. Henley needed a place to practice while visiting his girlfriend, so he made a call to the Country Club of Charleston, where PGA Tour golfers William McGirt and D.J. Trahan are honorary members.
It’s a golf club that has produced many great golfers, including some who have made their mark as professionals. Henry Picard, the 1938 Masters and 1939 PGA champion, began his career there. Former Citadel golfer Walker Inman, who played in nine U.S. Opens and six PGA championships, was a Picard protege. Jack Grout, who played the PGA Tour and is credited with much of Jack Nicklaus’ success, worked at the Country Club of Charleston under Picard. In the early 1980s, former head pro Bob Boyd left his job at the Country Club to play on the PGA Tour.
“He (Henley) asked if he could come out and hit balls. I didn’t know who he was,” said Hart Brown, the director of golf at the Country Club of Charleston. Henley liked what he saw, paid his initiation fee and became a dues-paying member.
“We didn’t go out and recruit him, but obviously we’re delighted he joined,” Humphreys said. “He came out to the club and fell in love with it. And the members fell in love with him. He’s just a down-to-earth, quiet, nice kid that has one heck of a golf game.”
Brown recalled the week before the Sony Open, Henley said the Country Club of Charleston’s greens were the best he had ever putted on and would prepare him for the PGA Tour.
Assistant pro Joey D’Amico said he told some of the members that Henley might win his first week out because he was putting so well. And the Seth Raynor connection certainly didn’t hurt. Raynor designed the golf courses at both the Country Club of Charleston and Waialae Country Club where Henley won the Sony Open.
“He’s pretty excited about being out there,” D’Amico said. “He has that exemption, so you might see him win again. He will be more relaxed.”
The victory also allows Henley a chance to check something off his bucket list. He will be making a trip to Augusta National in April to play in the Masters.
“I’m pretty speechless,” Henley said in the post-tournament news conference Sunday. “I was trying not to think about Augusta. I kept telling myself that this is a long year, you’re going to play this game for a long time. Be patient. It doesn’t have to happen now.”
A lot of people in Charleston are glad it did.