Trio of Georgia golfers make most of shot at Pebble Beach

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- At the par 4 dog leg No. 8th hole, hard by the Pacific Ocean, a fan yelled out as Russell Henley passed through in the second round Friday, "Go Bulldogs."

This obviously was a fan who had become attracted to the play of UGA No. 1 golfer Henley, playing partner Erik Compton -- a former Georgia All-American -- and Henley's current Georgia teammate Hudson Swafford, who was in the group behind them. If he had shouted the familiar "Go Dawgs," it would not have given him away as a new Georgia fan.

"It has been amazing," said Compton who missed the cut with a two-round total of 158--16 over par. "You won't believe the number of times I heard someone shouting, 'Go Dawgs.' It made me feel like I was back in Athens."

Compton has something to do with the regard for the Bulldog contingent in that his compelling story continues to attract attention. How many times does the TV networks and the Washington Post show up to interview a guy who is 16 over par?

It would only be natural that a player who has had two heart transplants would attract media attention, even when he misses the cut. That he wants to follow his dream of playing the PGA tour with his considerable challenge piques the media interest.

"Anyone going through what he has gone through makes it something special in the fact that he is here," said Chris Haack, Compton's Georgia coach.

But there is more to the story.

"I think Russell and Hudson have enjoyed themselves and have played to the crowd. They have made a lot of friends for the University of Georgia," Haack continued.

It would be easy to spot Henley and Swafford with their Georgia golf bags and Bulldog head covers. But they were not all show. They displayed shot making savvy that engendered respect.

"That is the thing that I have enjoyed the most," Haack added. "I think they showed the other players in the Open that they can play golf and should be joining them out here some day."

Haack met a couple from Colorado during the first round. When he showed up on the second day, they were following his guys.

"We became Georgia fans after talking to you and watching your players. They are very nice, and it is fun to see them having such a good time and enjoying themselves," the Coloradoans said.

Early in the week, Haack was in the middle of his summer golf camp when Swofford called him and said, "Coach you need to come out here and see this place. You just won't believe how unbelievable it is."

Haack was torn emotionally. He wanted to be here, but he felt responsible to the kids in his camp.

At first, he hesitated.

"I haven't made any arrangements, I don't even have a place to stay," he recalled telling Swafford.

With that, Swofford caused Haack to rethink his plans with an invitation to room with him. Haack discussed it with his campers, fully expecting to stay in Athens, if there were any expressions of disappointment. The campers told him he ought to strike out for Pebble Beach.

"I was excited about coming out here when I got the call," Haack said. "The fact that two of our players are competing in the Open is special, and it doesn't happen very often. Might not ever happen again. The players arranged a player instructor pass for me which gave me access to the practice tee. I have had a great time.

"Who wouldn't enjoy Pebble Beach?"

In the first round, when Swafford was leading briefly at two under par the text messages began streaming in. All Haack could think about was that the play of his players had to be getting attention for a lot of recruiting prospects.

"These boys have done Georgia proud," he said. "I'm grateful that they wanted me to come out and join them."

In the background, the waves of the Pacific were crashing against the rocks along the 18th fairway and sea otters were cavorting energetically in the ocean.

The Georgia contingent, enjoying themselves to the fullest, realize that there are few golf experiences to compare to the Open at Pebble Beach.

For Henely, the only one to make Friday's cut, there is something extra at stake: He now has a chance to become the low amateur by nightfall Sunday.