ARDMORE, Pa. — At 24 years old, Russell Henley can hardley be classified as a veteran.
But there he was Tuesday, walking the fairways of Merion Golf Club and dispensing advice to a trio of his fellow U.S. Open competitors.
The Macon native and former Georgia standout star enjoyed a practice round with fellow pro Jordan Spieth and amateurs Max Homa and Gavin Hall.
Even with just two appearances in the U.S. Open, Henley has double the experience of his playing companions from Tuesday. Spieth, 19, played in the 2012 event; Hall, 18, and Homa, 22, are making their debuts this week.
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“Russell’s the seasoned veteran in this foursome,” his father, Chapin Henley, joked.
At the 15th hole, an uphill par-4, Henley dropped a practice ball about 70 yards short of the green. He hit a low, spinning wedge shot, then turned to Homa, the reigning NCAA individual champion and issued a challenge.
“You’ve got to hit it closer than that,” Henley said.
Homa hit a high, arcing shot, and replied, “That’s all right, mine’s a lot prettier than yours.”
On the same green, Henley encouraged Homa’s putt that came up just short, and Henley complimented Spieth on the speed of his putt.
Henley enters the U.S. Open with confidence and a new caddie. After missing the cut at the Masters in April, Henley has gotten back on track with two top-10 finishes in his past five events.
He also hired a new caddie, Adam Hayes, to work with him. According to Henley’s father, they’ve only been together two weeks. Hayes previously had worked for Jonathan Byrd, a former Clemson star.
This week marks Henley’s third trip to the U.S. Open. In his debut at the 2010 event at Pebble Beach, Henley tied for 16th and also tied for low amateur honors. The following year, Henley tied for 42nd at Congressional.
Now in his first U.S. Open as a pro, Henley will try to top those performances. He won the Sony Open in Hawaii to start his year, and in the process, he became the first rookie to win in his first official start as a member of the PGA Tour since Garrett Willis did so in 2001.
Henley tees off at 2:13 p.m. on Thursday and is grouped with Branden Grace and Sang Moon Bae.
Henley will have his usual family support this week. In addition to his father, his mother Sally, and his brother Adam all will be at Merion. A few other relatives who live close by also plan to attend, Chapin Henley said.
Russell Henley might also have some fans who aren’t related to him. As he walked down the 16th tee, a fan called out to him and said, “Let’s go Russell, let’s win this thing.”
Henley just smiled.