Berry Henson always imagined moments like this. He’s at the U.S. Open, playing practice rounds with Phil Mickelson and soaking up whatever information he can get for his first major championship against the best players in the world.
He just didn’t imagine it would take him 20 years. He didn’t plan on playing on more than a dozen tours at home and abroad. He grew up near Palm Springs, went to college in San Diego and now has a home base in Thailand.
He has a second job as an Uber driver.
And on Thursday morning, at age 43, his name will be called on the 10th tee at Los Angeles Country Club to tee off in the U.S. Open.
“I’m kind of starting my journey,” Henson said. “It sounds weird — 43, starting your journey — but I’ve never given up. I’ve always tried to get 1% better. That’s kind of been our motto. That’s the road I’m on right now. And it just happened a little bit later. And we’re just going to keep doing it until I can’t go anymore.”
This is one of the great appeals of the U.S. Open, the major that truly lives up to its name. The USGA accepted a record 10,187 entries. Twenty of them at LACC had to start in 18-hole local qualifiers at 109 golf courses, and they were among 530 players who advanced to 36-hole qualifiers for the right to get to Beverly Hills.
“It’s really fun to have the opportunity to come play the biggest tournament in American golf,” said Olin Browne Jr., one of those 20 players. “I think this is the Super Bowl of golf. It’s awesome. And it’s awesome that they allow people like me the opportunity to play two qualifiers to get here.”
Henson had it easier than most years he tried (and failed). A decade ago, when he was down to his last chance with $5,000 to go for broke, he headed for Asian Tour Q-school, won the first stage and earned his card in the finals.
He has done well enough — he’s certainly not getting rich — to crack the top 500 in the world ranking and get a free pass to final U.S. Open qualifying. He chose Canoe Brook in New Jersey and, despite a double bogey on his first hole, shot 64 and then hung on with a 71 to be among four players to make it.
He described the last week since he got in like “having the lead for seven straight days.”
“Haven’t been sleeping that good,” Henson said. “Obviously, the attention has been amazing. I’m very blessed, very humbled and honored to be here at the U.S. Open for my first major.”
As for that journey? Where to start.
He took a job at a hotel golf resort to be able to play. He turned pro out of the University of San Diego without the pedigree of most others, and without listening to anyone who said he wasn’t good enough to do this for a living.
“A lot of people told me that I couldn’t make it,” Henson said. “I think that put a fire in my belly. I told myself in college, ‘Hey, if I’m not seeing improvement in my game, I’m going to do something else.’ But every year I just seem to get a little bit better, a little bit better, a little bit better. And yeah, we’re here at 43, playing my first major championship.”
Browne can relate. He has had a closer look at where he wants to be from watching his father, a three-time PGA Tour winner. Browne wound up at Pepperdine and also took the road less traveled, minus stops at remote outposts around the world.
He started on the National Pro Tour, did one year in Latin America, four years in Canada with stops on the Korn Ferry Tour along the way. The most recent stop for the 34-year-old Browne has been the Minor League Tour in Florida. Browne has lost track of how many times he tried U.S. Open qualifying, and even now is reminded of what it took.
“I actually had to make a 30-footer in regulation to even make it into a playoff at locals,” Browne said. “Thinking back over what happened on Monday, that 30-footer that happened to go in was a big deal.”
The Monday to which he referred was a week ago in Columbus, Ohio, the final qualifier that featured the most PGA Tour players. Browne beat them all as the medalist to advance.
They are among the long shots. Maybe one of them will be this major’s version of Michael Block, the California club pro who played with Rory McIlroy in the final round of the PGA Championship, made a hole-in-one on the final day at Oak Hill and tied for 15th.
Maybe they’ll be like countless others at the U.S. Open and leave on Friday with memories.
No matter. They made it. Henson — he goes by his college nickname “Hensonator” — figures the way he has battled long odds just to get here should serve him well.
“I think being humble, getting comfortable, enjoying the experience, and letting my game talk — and hopefully it does this week — I can only take away positives from this week,” he said. “It’s just going to be a win-win all the way around. My team is so excited to be here. I’m excited to be here. The USGA has been amazing to me.
“Yeah, I’m going to take it all in.”