The kid did it. University of Georgia senior Russell Henley held off several challenges from the pros during Sunday’s final round and won the Stadion Classic at UGA, becoming only the second amateur in Nationwide Tour history to win a tournament.
“I can’t even feel my arms,” said the three-time All-America. “I was nervous all day. I don’t know how long it will take to sink in, eight months, nine months, a couple days, I don’t know, I’ve never done this before.”
2011 STADION CLASSIC
PGA Tour player Bubba Watson is the tournament host of this year's Stadion Classic.
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Henley, who will graduate on Friday with a degree in Housing and Consumer Economics, shot a 3-under 68 to beat Troy Kelly by two strokes and join former BYU standout Daniel Summerhays as the only amateur winners since the circuit began in 1990. Summerhays was in between his junior and senior seasons when he captured the 2007 Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational.
“Everyone was asking me about making the cut this week, but I’ve been telling people I was playing to win,” said Henley, who was the low amateur (tied for 16th) at last year's U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. “You play a lot of golf tournaments that you don’t win, but just because I’m an amateur doesn’t mean I can’t win.”
Monday qualifier Will Wilcox and Matt Hendrix shared third place, three shots back of Henley.
Matt Davidson, Brad Elder, Bubba Dickerson and Danny Lee tied for fifth place, four back.
Henley, who got into the tournament on a sponsor exemption, won’t collect the $99,000 first-place check -- that went to runner-up Kelly, who is playing on a medical exemption this year.
The 22-year old from Macon, Ga., shared the overnight lead with Kelly but stumbled out of the blocks with a bogey. It would turn out to be his only hiccup of the day. Henley surrendered temporary grip on the lead, but regained it with birdies at Nos. 2, 4 and 6, with the one on the par-4 fourth coming from 50 feet.
“I knew that if I played fearless golf, went with my first instinct and had as much fun as I possibly could, I’d shoot a good score,” said Henley. “It was definitely harder to commit to my shots today. I had a lot of adrenaline.”
And when Kelly posted back-to-back bogeys making the turn, Henley had sole possession of the lead for the back. He never wilted despite yanking a couple of tee shots left coming in.
“When I get nervous, my hands get quick,” he said. “I wound up flipping a couple to the left.”
And with the rest of the field doing their best to make a charge, Henley kept making -- and saving -- pars until he rolled in a 15 foot birdie putt at No. 15 to increase his lead to two over Kelly.
The lead was still two with one hole to go, though Henley hadn’t checked with anyone.
“I thought somebody was going to be at 11 under, so I figured I had a one-shot lead,” said Henley, who yanked his second shot left of the green to a short pin. “I’ve played this course so many times that I think I can get up-and-down from anywhere.”
Henley chipped to two feet and when Kelly missed his birdie try from 10 feet, all that was left was to tap in and soak up the cheers from a record crowd that hung on every shot.
With the win, Henley now has 60 days to join the Nationwide Tour and play in the Tournament Winner category for the 2011 season. If he chooses not to join within 60 days, he may still join for the 2012 season at the end of this year. He would play out of the Tournament Winner category, which would be his second year of eligibility in that category.
Henley says he has absolutely no plans to turn pro in the next couple of months.
“They talk about how much money you can make playing pro golf, but I’ve never played golf to win money,” he said. “I love to play golf and I love to compete and there are a lot of amateur tournaments I want to play in.”
Henley’s summer schedule includes the Palmer Cup, Northeast Amateur, Southern Amateur, Porter Cup, Western Amateur, U.S. Amateur and finally the Walker Cup in September.
“That’s actually more than I wanted to play this summer,” he said. “I’m going to stay amateur for sure.”
--Play was suspended for one minute at 3:08 p.m. ET to observe a moment of silence to honor the passing of Spain’s Seve Ballesteros, 54.
--Travis Bertoni aced the 191-yard 16th hole. Bertoni used a 6-iron to register the third hole-in-one of his career. It was the first final-round ace in the tournament’s five-year history.
--Rob Oppenheim had a pair of eagles on back-nine par 5s. At No. 12, it was driver, 7-iron and a putt from 20 feet. At No. 17, it was driver, 3-wood and a putt from 12 feet. Oppenheim shot a 5-under 66 and finished 5 under for the week (tied for 15th).
--Harris English, another UGA senior, closed with a 3-under 68 to wind up 4 under for the week. English, a four-time winner at Georgia, tied for 18th, which will gain him a start in the next Nationwide Tour event he would be eligible for -- the Melwood Prince George’s County Open June 2-5 in College Park, Md.