Oregon native Henninger eyes 2014 Champions Tour

Updated: February 3, 2014

Brian Henninger has been around the golf game in the Pacific Northwest for years. He was a top-ranked junior playing while growing up in Eugene. Was a state championship at Sheldon High School and walked on at Southern Cal and became a two-time All-American.

He grinded his way to the PGA Tour and even finished 10th at the Masters in 1995 besides winning twice on tour. A solid career that also had him put together his own foundation which helps various organizations around the Pacific Northwest.

But now, Henninger’s golf career is taking a different path – one that leads to the Champions tour. When he turned 50 last year, he got into 16 events on the Champions Tour, using an exemption because he was a two-time winner on the PGA Tour. He won over $240,000 – he wanted more.

This year, he hopes to use that same exemptions to get into more events and see if he can land in the top 30 money winners and earn a place for good on the tour.

“The Champions Tour is great – it’s like reincarnation for old guys,” said Henninger. “You feel young again. And there are still opportunities for you to succeed playing a game you love to play. Guys are all working hard out on this tour. Nobody takes it for granted.”

Henninger had a solid professional career. First on the Ben Hogan Tour, where he won three times and earned a spot on the PGA Tour. He won the Deposit Guaranty Classic in 1994 and had his second win in 1999 at the Southern Farm Bureau Classic.

His major moment came in 1995 at the Masters where he shared the third-round lead with eventual winner Ben Crenshaw. He shot a final-round 76 to tie for 10th but wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

“That would be have been life changing, winning The Masters,” said Henninger. “I was in the last group and it was unreal. I was pretty confident but just lacked experience in a situation like that. I had never teed off late but we went off at 3 and that was strange. I was kind of worn out by the time we teed off. I was so excited all day. I wasn’t very well prepared for that experience.”

Henninger’s family is in his court for this Champions Tour journey. Wife Cathy and kids Carlin, Hunter and Mia like it when dad plays good and does well. “I think they like the road trips to places like Hawaii,” Henninger said with a laugh.

Henninger and his new caddy Teddy Joyce will start the season in February in Florida. Henninger met Joyce at Bandon Dunes. Joyce had been a full-time caddy at Bandon and Henninger liked him right away. They worked together last year in those 16 tournaments and the paring seemed to click right away.

In 2013, it took Henninger a while to get in his first Champions Tour event. Just because a former PGA Tour player turns 50 doesn’t mean he gets to play the next week on the Champions Tour. There are certain exemptions and Henninger had to wait to use his, which was being a two-time winner on the PGA Tour. His first event was in Mississippi in June and he didn’t know what to expect when he showed up on the driving range that first day of tournament week.

“When I showed up I was really welcomed,” said Henninger. “There were all these guys I had played with years ago and they were all friendly. It was like an old home week kind of deal. It was great.”

In fact, Henninger’s caddy couldn’t quite believe his eyes. This was not Bandon Dunes. When Joyce saw Fred Couples walk up to Henninger on the range he had to do a double-take. “Teddy was blown away by the whole thing,” Henninger said. “It was funny to see. But now he sees that he fits in out here like I do. This should be great for both of us.”

Henninger runs an event through his foundation every year at Bandon Dunes and had Joyce as his caddy a couple of years ago. Things clicked right away. “It’s all about chemistry for me,” said Henninger. “I don’t like buddies on the bag. This is too professional for something like that. I want to spend time with a guy and enjoy it. This is working out great for both of us so far.”

His best finish last year was a tie for sixth in Hawaii in September. He did get a little airtime on the Golf Channel but got a bunch of face time with Golf Channel announcer Lanny Wadkins who told him, during a chance meeting around the hotel pool before the final round, that he could win the tournament.

After a round with Jay Haas in North Carolina, Haas told Henninger “I don’t know how you ever shoot over 68 with that swing.”

“I like my chances this year, but you never know,” said Henninger. “I will tee it up and see what happens.”