HARTFORD, Conn – Two past champions of the PGA Tour’s annual stop in Connecticut are an interesting partnership this week at the Houston Open.
Fairfield native J.J. Henry, the only Connecticut player to win the state’s biggest sporting event in 2006 when it was the Buick (now Travelers) Championship, has 1988 Canon Sammy Davis Jr.-Greater Hartford Open winner Mark Brooks caddying for him. Henry has worked with Brooks, another product of Fort Worth, Texas, on (caddying) and off (teaching) the course since 2012.
Henry, who now lives in Fort Worth with his wife and two sons, and Brooks are both outgoing individuals and could be seen constantly chatting in the first two rounds of the Houston Open, including with Henry’s former caddie Donnie Watkins, another Fairfield native, who also was working in their group. Henry’s father, Ron, an accomplished player himself, caddied for J.J. when he was an amateur and when he first turned pro in 1998. J.J. has now come full cycle with his oldest son, 14-year-old Connor, occasionally caddying for him in pro-ams, including in the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell in June.
Brooks, 58, is playing a limited PGA Tour Champions schedule after winning seven PGA Tour titles, including the 1996 PGA Championship in a playoff with 2009 Travelers Championship titlist Kenny Perry, and losing a playoff to Retief Goosen in the 2001 U.S. Open. Henry, 44, is in his 20th year on the PGA Tour and trying to regain his form after losing his card when he missed 16 of 22 cuts and finished with a career-low $177,222 in the 2018-19 season. Until then, Henry was one of only three American-born PGA Tour players to finish in the Top 125 and retain his card since 2001.
Last season also was when Henry became the first player to take advantage of a one-time PGA Tour exemption for those who made at least 300 cuts that was six priority positions higher than the past champions category. Henry made the cut Friday when he birdied five of his first seven holes to kickstart a 5-under-par 67 and was in a tie for 20th at 141 when the rain-delayed second round was suspended because of darkness.
Henry, who missed the cut in his first two starts in the 2019-20 season, birdied three of the first five holes on Saturday, but a watery double-bogey 6 on the seventh hole derailed his round and he closed with two bogeys for 73 and a tie for 38th at 214. Meanwhile, a 65 for 205 vaulted Lanto Griffin into a one-stroke lead over Mark Hubbard (69) heading into the final round Sunday.
Henry has won three PGA Tour titles and more than $16 million and was a member of the 2006 U.S. Ryder Cup Team after playing on the Nationwide/Buy.com (now Korn Ferry) Tour for two years and capturing the Knoxville Open in 2000. Before turning pro in 1998, he was the NCAA Championship runner-up and an All-American and Player of the Year at Texas Christian University, not far from where he lives. While in Connecticut, he led Fairfield High School to two state championships while going 76-0-2 and won the Connecticut State Golf Association Amateur Championship three times and New England Amateur once.
“The cool thing about golf is it really doesn’t know how old you are,” Henry once said. “If you can continue to stay in somewhat good shape and health and have a pretty good mental fortitude to have the commitment to the things.”
THREE HAWKS REUNITED
There’s another reunion this week in the PGA Tour Champions’ SAS Championship for three former University of Hartford teammates – Glastonbury native Tim Petrovic, Jerry Kelly and Patrick Sheehan, who was born in Providence, R.I. The trio represents one of only seven NCAA Division I schools to have three former teammates on the PGA Tour at the same time, and others include noted powerhouses such as Texas, Ohio State and Houston. Sheehan has been on secondary tours the past decade, but all three qualified for the SAS Championship at Prestwood Country Club in Cary, N.C.
Ironically, the three former Hawks teed off within 11 minutes of each other in the third round Saturday, with Sheehan starting on the 10th tee. Kelly led the Hawks with six birdies, four on the back nine, in a 5-under 67 that put him in third place at 9-under 135, one behind 2004 Buick Championship winner Woody Austin (67) and Doug Barron (68), who became the first Monday qualifier on the PGA Tour Champions to lead wire-to-wire when he won the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open on Aug. 18 for his first title on the 50-and-over circuit. The trio will be playing partners again in the final round Sunday.
Petrovic birdied three of the first eight holes, but a double-bogey 6 on the 16th hole ruined his round in, finishing with 71 for 140 and a tie for 17th place. Sheehan improved five shots from Friday in shooting 73 for 151 and 77th place.