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Sharing first JDC with Henley

Russell Henley hits onto the 11th green from a sand trap during the second round of the Quicken Loans National on June 27 in Bethesda, Md. Henley is enjoying his first trip to the John Deere Classic.
Russell Henley hits onto the 11th green from a sand trap during the second round of the Quicken Loans National on June 27 in Bethesda, Md. Henley is enjoying his first trip to the John Deere Classic.

SILVIS – On Friday, my day started early. 

While I can usually be found lying in bed throughout the morning, making sure my pillow still works, I was excited to wake up and make the drive to TPC Deere Run in Silvis for the John Deere Classic.

Friday marked my first time covering a professional golf tournament, something I have only seen on TV from my couch. I was a little nervous about finding something to write about. I had an idea in my head that everything was going to be hectic, but once I got to the course, I was able to settle in.

I also found someone who had never been to the course before this weekend and had only watched it on TV, like me.

His name was Russell Henley, a 25-year-old pro from Georgia. Henley turned pro in 2011, and played on the Tour for his first 2 years. He has been playing in PGA events since last year, and has already racked up two wins doing so.

One came in the 2013 Sony Open in Hawaii, the other at the Honda Classic in March this year. This was his first John Deere Classic. He skipped the tournament last year, but decided to play this season in order to get his game back on track.

"Everyone is really, really nice here," Henley said, adjusting his white visor. "It's just a great area. The fans are so supportive, so it's very welcoming."

I was also the subject of a warm welcome. After parking my car, I hitched a ride to the course in a large SUV that was used for transporting media to and from the John Deere headquarters parking lot. I rode with a nice lady that had the air conditioner on full blast. She also insisted I sit up front with her in order to get a better view of the area.

When she dropped me off by the admissions tent, I put the search on for the media tent to pick up my credentials. I should have brought a map, because I got lost on the way.

I soon found myself between large trailers, walking against the stream of people with shade-yielding bucket hats and golf shirts. It was almost by chance that I happened upon the media trailer.

I got my press-pass picture taken, and it reminded me of my drivers license picture – not good – and permanent. No matter, I was off to do more exploring.

My new friend did the same.

"Being from Georgia, I didn't really know too much about the course, or the area," Henley said. "I just watched this tournament on TV a bunch. Coming in, I just wanted to enjoy it, and I am so far."

Henley was paired with fan-favorite Zach Johnson, who finished the day tied for the lead at 12-under par after shooting a 67 in round 2 to complement his Day 1 63. Large crowds followed Johnson, an Iowa native, and even shared their enthusiasm for Henley, who fed off the energy.

He carded three birdies in the final five holes to finish at 5-under, making the cut which was finally set at 2-under.

Like Henley, I have only seen the Classic on TV, and decided to enjoy my time and get a sense of what a high-level tournament is like. It is something I don't get to do very often. I found out where Henley was at on the course and followed him and his red Nike bag around for a few holes.

"The greens are really true, and the whole course has lots of grass on it," Henley said. "It makes it a lot more fun than a lot of the other courses I play."

It was funny that Henley mentioned the amount of grass, because I, too, took advantage of the large amount of grass.

I found a large patch of grass that wasn't already occupied by bag chairs filled to capacity by men in jean shorts, and I sat atop a small hill near the middle of the 18th fairway.

I took some notes in my notebook, but mostly watched as golfers smashed drives over my head. It was neat to see the swing, before hearing the soft ping that followed.

The balls sailed over my head, seemingly in slow motion, before falling to the trimmed grass with a thud that sounded like someone fluffing a pillow in another room.

I left my spot on grass to start writing once the pesky gnats found me. 

"I absolutely loved it," Henley said of his 2 days of golf. "I was just trying to focus, and enjoy the moment at the same time. I will come here for years to come."

Hopefully, I will be fortunate enough to do the same.

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