Henley fights back for opening 69

ATHENS, Ga. -- Believe it or not, Russell Henley views a bogey as the highlight of Thursday’s opening round at the Stadion Classic at UGA.

The tournament’s defending champion -- the Georgia grad was still in college when he won a year ago, becoming only the second amateur ever to win on the Nationwide Tour -- Henley rolled in a 10-foot putt on No. 1 to save bogey after burying his drive under a big tree.

“I hit it right at it and I knew it was going to go under there,” Henley said of the tree. “It always does. It’s like a magnet.”

Nonetheless, the bogey kept him at even par, only slowing his momentum slightly after he rallied from a par-bogey-bogey start -- “those were some really awesome bogeys,” he joked -- after opening his first round on No. 10. Henley had birdied 15, 16 and 18 to make the turn at 1 under before dropping to even at 1.

He added birdies at Nos. 5 and 7 to finish with a solid 2-under 69 after the slow start.

“I fought back,” Henley said. “That’s something I think I’ve been working on a little bit this year, and I think that I used to be probably one of the best at, was fighting out there. I’m just trying to get back to my roots and do that. I’m pretty proud of 2 under. With that start, it’s pretty easy to get frustrated or get down on yourself, but I hung in there.”

Now a professional player, Henley is slowly adjusting to life on tour, where players are required to wear long pants during play and the week-to-week grind requires consistent focus. He played Thursday’s round with a fresh haircut, as well, chopping off his previously shoulder-length hair when he returned to a favorite barber shop, Mr. Haircut in downtown Athens.

“The team goes there and I always come by,” he laughed. “It was about time to get it cut. I had it long for about a year and it’s going to be a hot summer I’m sure. Pants are already hot enough.”

One of nine current and former Bulldogs in the field, Henley trails leader Kent Jones by six strokes after the first round. Jones opened in the morning with a tournament-record 8-under 63.

Other Bulldog highlights included Hudson Swafford’s 5-under 66 and Paul Claxton’s 3-under 68.

Georgia grad Justin Bolli finished with a 1-under 70, Matt McQuillan had an even-par 71 to lead the par-or-better Bulldogs.