Lateral Hazard: Russell Henley opens PGA Tour career with dazzling victory

Brian Murphy
Yahoo Sports

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Russell Henley shot a final-round 63 to win the Sony Open. (AP)

How strong was 23-year-old Russell Henley's win in his first PGA Tour start as a member?

Put it this way: If Colin Kaepernick was watching, even he probably thought, "Dang, who is this kid?"

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson must feel ancient about now, fumbling for their bifocals to read the small print on menus; feeling every muscle strain when they rise in the morning; searching the medicine cabinet for antacids after another bout with acid reflux.

After all, they're old. Tiger is 37, Phil is 42, and kids who don't even know that MTV once played music videos are threatening scoring records on Tour. Everybody knows Rory McIlroy carries the banner for the under-25 crowd, but he may want to text Henley and welcome him to the fold. Henley crushed it at the Sony Open in Oahu, ripping off five consecutive birdies on the back nine to cap off a final-round 63, his third 63 in four competitive rounds at Waialae. His four-day total of 24-under 256 is second-best in Tour history for a 72-hole event and best ever for a rookie.

He may now kiss his bicep, a la Kaepernick.

[Related: Russell Henley gets PGA Tour career off to record start]

Kids these days have grown up more comfortable on the big stage than we used to. Maybe it's because they're all posting videos on YouTube, or accustomed to their parents shoving video cameras in their mugs at a young age. Maybe it's the Tiger Effect; that he shattered preconceived notions of what you're supposed to achieve so early.

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Henley was making his first start since joining the PGA Tour. (AP)

t wasn't only evident on the sun-kissed shores of Oahu, where Henley rolled his golf ball beautifully on the greens and showed no fear and won by three strokes. His win dovetailed with the NFL playoff stories, too – which is what most of the Western world was watching instead of the Sony Open. Shoot, you had Kaepernick running wild at Candlestick Park this past weekend and Seattle Seahawks rookie Russell Wilson almost launching one of the greatest comebacks in playoff history. We already know about RG3 and Andrew Luck. It's all part of the Kids Are All Right movement.

Here's an example of the Henley Generation. He's on Twitter, as is his final grouping competitor Scott Langley, another 23-year-old rookie. Henley and Langley tweet each other for all of us to see, using the hashtag #KGB. Lest you think they're spies for the old Soviet Union, remember: These guys were born the year the Berlin Wall fell.

No, #KGB means "Keep Getting Better," and it's what they exhort each other to do. And it's working.

Let's get to know Henley a little better, since he'll be at the Masters, and since Johnny Miller nearly needed a seat belt to strap himself in, lest he parachute down from the broadcasting booth to bear hug Henley in proclaiming him the Next Big Thing:

Henley is a Georgia boy. He won the Haskins Award for the top collegiate golfer in 2010, when he was a Georgia Bulldog. He won twice on the Web.com tour last year and said the competitive juices needed there made him think he could play well on the PGA Tour. He wears a visor, and his putting routine, quick, to the point and accurate, is reminiscent of another Southern boy, Brandt Snedeker. Nice to note he doesn't use a long putter, too. He takes an athletic rip at the golf ball, and makes meaty contact. More than once, the Golf Channel crew commented on the sound Henley makes on contact. And if you're looking for a silly angle, which I always am – Henley is one of the few golfers you'll see rocking a little chest hair between the buttons on his golf shirt.

Don't laugh. In this era of "man-scaping," it's a throwback look, and if you think I'm touched in the head for bringing it up, check Henley's Twitter feed: He re-tweeted a guy asking Henley to go one button lower, to let the chest lettuce flow. You gotta love a guy with the self-deprecating sense of re-tweet humor, especially when he fires final round 63s.

[Also: Dustin Johnson appears cozy with Wayne Gretzky's daughter]

Speaking of 63s, there was the matter of Tim Clark. The veteran South African joined the two rookies in the final threesome. On the back nine, Clark, he of the long putter, decided to turn up the heat on the young'uns. Clark started ripping off birdies, and waited for Henley to wilt. When Henley rolled in his fourth consecutive bird on No. 17, essentially gorilla-dunking on the doubters, Clark laughed and shook his head. He was mightily impressed, and said so afterward, noting that Henley's demeanor impressed him the most, along with his pressure putting. Clark shot 63, and finished a distant three strokes back. His 21-under 259 is the lowest total for a non-winner in PGA Tour history, but a silver medal is a silver medal.

Henley will take gold, thank you, and fly back to the mainland, easing his seat back for a trans-Pacific sleep, having served notice that the calendar has turned to 2013, and the new names are coming.

SCORECARD OF THE WEEK

68-64-74-66 – 16-under 272, Louis Oosthuizen, winner, PGA Europe Volvo Champions, Durban Country Club, Durban, South Africa.

And look who's No. 4 in the world: the gap-toothed, one-time record-setting British Open champion at St. Andrews who is still wondering how he made double-eagle on a Sunday at the Masters and isn't wearing a green jacket.

Nice to see you back, Louis Oosthuizen.

Most fans will go deep into the night arguing whether Oosthuizen or McIlroy has the world's more gorgeous golf swing. Let's settle on this: When it comes to pure aesthetics, Looie O takes a back seat to no player.

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Louis Oosthuizen came from five strokes back to win the PGA Europe Volvo Champions. (Getty Images)

The problem with Looie O, is that he'll wander off the reservation at times. After he watched Bubba Watson hit the Easter miracle "Hook Shot from Heaven" on the 10th hole in his Masters playoff, Oosthuizen didn't bother competing too hard. He missed the cuts at the Players Championship, Jack Nicklaus' Memorial and the U.S. Open before roaring back late in the year with top-fives at Bridgestone, Deutsche Bank and the Barclays.

He started Sunday's round five strokes back of Scott Jamieson, a Scot who won the Nelson Mandela Open last month. But Jamieson got a little wobbly, shot 72, and watched as Looie O unfurled that buttery move, time and again, in carving a clutch final-round 66 for the win.

Already a hot name since last year's Masters reappearance, and still only 30 years old, there are few stocks more sizzling right now than Oosthuizen's. Paired with Dustin Johnson's win at Maui, 2013 is already a good year for "Wins By Uber-Talented Dudes For Whom We're All Expecting Monster Years."

BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK

"When it's your time, it's your time. And it appears it's Henley's time." – Dan Hicks, The Golf Channel, as Henley approached the 18th tee box with a three-stroke lead.

Say, does anybody have the time? It's Henley Time, apparently.

[Also: Qatar Masters doesn't think Tiger Woods worth $3M appearance fee]

I only included Hicks' coronation of Henley because it would take too long to sift through Johnny Miller's mountain of gushing compliments on Henley. There was the time Miller said Henley put on "one of the best putting performances I've ever seen." There was the time Miller said Henley "may be a star right out of the blocks." There was the time Miller said "there are only a handful of people in the world playing better than" Henley right now. There was the time Miller said Henley's performance was "a little surreal … it's swept us off our feet."

We gleaned that, John. We gleaned that.

And why not let the love flow? Hawaii does that to a person, as I was just saying to my good friend, Paulina Gretzky.

Credit to Miller. He's consistent. Henley told The Golf Channel that when he played in the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, his friends told him that Miller complimented his putting stroke on TV. Henley said he thinks about that from time to time as fuel. So, Miller was in early on the Henley regatta of admiration. Sort of like discovering the Beatles at the Cavern Club before they played Ed Sullivan.

MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK

Henley's blitzkrieg on the back nine did more than just vault his name up the golf ladder. It also left his buddy, Langley, in the dust.

Langley burst on to the scene with a 62 on Thursday, his first round as a card-carrying PGA Tour rookie after he made it through Q-School. The NCAA champion at Illinois, Langley also played the role of Henley's pal. That two friends and rookies were in the final grouping of the first full-field event of the year made for a good story – until the 13th hole.

Two strokes back of Henley on the 13th tee, and easily within striking distance, Langley ran out of gas. He bogeyed 13, 15 and 16, and finished seven strokes back, tied for third.

Imagine the storyline if Henley and Langley went to the 72nd hole tied, or one stroke apart. Instead, Langley's fade – he shot 70 – took a small bit of shine off the "Buddies/Rookies/Competitors" angle.

So let's go back out to the 13th tee, remind Langley to keep pace with his amigo Henley, give him a bottle of water, a cold towel, a deep breath and … give that man a mulligan!

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Well, the PGA Tour goes to the Southern California desert for the first mainland event of the year, the old Bob Hope Chrysler Classic-turned-Humana Challenge. And Phil Mickelson is playing, which is great.

But the hungrier eyes turn to the European Tour, where the big boys arrive at Abu Dhabi. And by "big boys," I mean Rory and Tiger make their 2013 season debut. Does it get much bigger than that, boys? Maybe only if Russell Henley wings it over and sticks a peg in the ground next to Rors and T.W. Until that day, though, we'll settle for a juicy field in the Middle East.


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