AUGUSTA, Ga. — Five years ago, Russell Henley played practice rounds at Augusta National with concerned thoughts racing through his mind.
His son, Robert, was born with brain swelling two days before the tournament began. He was in a NICU unit in Charleston, South Carolina, while Henley received updates from family out on the course.
Henley considered withdrawing if Robert’s condition worsened, but he got good news from family and his wife, Teil, as the tournament began. He finished with a 5-under par 283, tied for 15th. He rushed home after his final round to be with his first-born child and Teil.
“It was just really hard, it was the scariest time of my life,” Henley said. “I thought he might not make it. It was touch and go. I didn’t know if I was going to play until Wednesday night, Thursday morning. Not a lot of sleep for a couple days in a row.”
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Henley had Robert and 4-year-old daughter Ruth alongside as he played the Par 3 Contest on Wednesday. Teil was home with their third child, 10-month-old Jane, so Russell shuffled along with Robert and Ruth as he played the course with Larry Mize and Ben Carr.
Robert, who turned 5 on Monday, playfully helped Russell line up putts throughout the round.
“Scary memories, but he’s doing great now,” Henley said on Wednesday after the round. “He just turned five and we’re so grateful.”
That moment, the biggest of his life to that point, put his world in perspective. Golf is far down the list of importance most times, and Wednesday’s Par 3 Contest put that into focus for the former University of Georgia golfer.
Henley’s former teammates at UGA encouraged him through the difficulties off the course. That brotherhood remains strong when challenges arise.
Chris Kirk received support years ago as he struggled with alcohol abuse. After taking time off from golf, he’s returned strong to the tour and won the Honda Classic in February to qualify for this year’s Masters. On April 29, he’ll celebrate four years of sobriety.
“I think a lot of us that are close, we just kind of know that we have each other’s backs no matter what,” Kirk said. “We’re here for each other as friends first, and golf definitely comes second after that.”
Former Bulldog Kevin Kisner, playing the Masters for the eighth time, has played the support role many times for fellow PGA Tour golfers. He understands that it’s tough being on the road, away from family many weeks throughout the year.
He and wife Brittany have three kids ranging from 8-year-old Kate to 1 year old George, and he says it’s essential to have support on the tour while traveling.
“There’s so many different aspects of life that people struggle with out here on tour that you’re trying to play through and play with,” Kisner said on Wednesday after playing the Par 3 contest with Brittany and their three children. “You have to have confidants that you can reach out to, to help you through struggles. It’s a hard road, but we’re blessed to be able to do it and any time anybody needs help, you’re always trying to be there to show them how good it is going to be on the other side.”
Henley worked hard to wrangle two kids by himself on Wednesday while he played the Par 3 tournament. But looking down at Robert carrying a putter with seemingly no care in the world was one of the best moments he’s experienced on the grounds of Augusta National.
“It doesn’t seem like five years,” Henley said. “It sure does when you look at him, he’s a growing boy. I’m just so thankful.”
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