Russell Henley celebrates after winning the Sony Open with a final round 63 to end the tournament 24 under par. Photo: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
LA QUINTA - After dominating the Sony Open last weekend with a 24-under 256 - the lowest score, by four shots, in tournament history - 23-year-old Russell Henley picked right up where he left off in the opening round of the Humana Challenge in Palm Springs, California.
The former Stratford Academy and University of Georgia standout fired an eight under par 64 and trails the leaders by just one shot.
Henley carded seven birdies and one eagle during his round at the PGA West Course. The tournament is played over three different courses.
Henley played the Part 5's in five under par on the day.
Jason Kokrak, Roberto Castro and rookie James Hahn all fired a 9-under 63 on Thursday to share the lead by one over Henley.
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The Macon, Ga., native flew from Honolulu to LAX on Sunday night and has been trying to cope with a lack of sleep and the thrill of victory for the past few days as he gears up for the Humana Challenge.
"(Tuesday) night was my first normal night of sleep, I finally have gotten a little sleep," Henley said Wednesday, "and I'm just really excited to be here and play in another golf tournament."
Although he played for the University of Georgia, the rookie didn't take the most common of pathways to his recent success.
He was the first in his family to pick up a club.
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"My dad never played, nobody else really played too many sports in my family," he said. "My brother plays a little bit, he's like a 10 handicap, and he caddied for me a little bit in some of the opens I played in, but I think I'm the only one who has played (seriously) in my family."
Instead of the time-honored, father-son method of picking up the sport, Henley says he got interested through a childhood friend.
"I think we were 7 or 8, he took me out to the golf course with him and let me use his clubs," Henley said. "I just loved the difficulty and I think it definitely drove me that I was not close to the best at it when I started, and I wasn't for a bunch of years.
"And I think that's the biggest part, is knowing I wasn't very good at it, because everything else came pretty easy, but golf was a lot harder," he added.
In between his days with his friend's clubs and his years as a Bulldog, Henley went to Stratford Academy in Macon, which recently commemorated his inaugural Tour win by declaring Tuesday "Russell Henley Day," where, among other things, the entire school wore Hawaiian shirts and leis.
"Hopefully next week I'm off and I can swing by there, maybe and say, 'hey,' to them and thank them," he said.
With all that's happened in the last week, it hasn't left too much time to get acquainted with the three courses that comprise the Humana, although he's been trying.
"My coach came out here (Tuesday) ... and we played a few holes on the Palmer Course and the swing feels great, putter feels great and looking forward to another good one," he says. "I (also) came out here for rookie PGA Tour orientation and I played La Quinta (Country Club) twice and I played the Palmer, and (Wednesday) I'm going to ... play a few holes on the Nicklaus and we're going to call it a day after that."