AUGUSTA - Russell Henley put his first shot in the right bunker. But the Charleston resident settled down over his debut Masters round today and drew a loud roar with his last shot, a 40-foot putt to save par on No. 18.
Henley, 23, is even par at 72.
“I just told myself, ‘I want to make par’ and I tried to be positive,” said Henley, a University of Georgia graduate from Macon. “Then right before the putt I told myself, ‘I want to make this putt.’ Just tried to reinforce some positive thoughts. When I do that, more good things happen than not.”
Thinking differently, Henley bogeyed the first two holes.
“A little nervy at the start,” Henley said. “I walked on the tee box and just got chills. It just kind of hit me that I’m here. It brought memories of standing outside the ropes and guys getting announced. It was like, ‘Whoa. I’m the one inside (the ropes) now and I made it.’ It felt really good. I had to fight off a few tears and I was ready to go.”
Henley, who plays at the Country Club of Charleston and the Daniel Island Club, earned his Masters invitation in January at the Sony Open in Hawaii by becoming the first PGA Tour rookie since 2001 to win his debut tournament.
It’s been quite a “Welcome to Augusta” week, whether Henley makes the cut or not. He drove to Augusta from Charleston on Sunday night. On Monday, he was asked by someone in the pro shop to name a few players for an ideal practice round. Henley said Tom Watson and Ben Crenshaw.
He was given Watson’s phone number.
“Called Tom and he called me right back two hours later and he was friendly as can be,” Henley said, “and I’ll always remember that and tell my grandkids, hopefully.”
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff