J.J. Henry, an alternate, and the quandary of playing the waiting game at a three-course tournament

February 06, 2020
Houston Open - Round Three

Sam Greenwood

PEBBLE BEACH — J.J. Henry knows the drill. The PGA Tour veteran has been an alternate before at plenty of tournaments, especially in the last few years, but he hadn’t been an alternate at an event like the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

His apprehension level was high.

“I never felt so unprepared for a tournament in my life,” said the three-time tour winner after carding a two-over 74 Thursday on a picture-perfect afternoon at Pebble Beach Golf Links.

Henry, who is playing out of the Past Champions category for the third straight season, came to the Monterey Peninsula on Tuesday as the second alternate behind Tim Herron. That meant two players had to drop out for him to get a tee time. Herron got in the field later Tuesday when K.H. Lee withdrew.

Henry played Monterey Peninsula Country Club’s Shore Course on Tuesday and Pebble Beach on Wednesday and figured that, if nothing else, he got a chance to play a couple of nice practice rounds. But after finishing up at Pebble, it occurred to him that he faced a conundrum.

“I didn’t know where I was supposed to be if someone withdrew,” Henry said, in reference to the three courses used for the tournament—Pebble Beach, Monterey Peninsula and Spyglass—that aren’t all that close to one another. “I mean, what if I’m on the range at Pebble Beach and someone withdraws going off the 10th tee at Monterey Peninsula 10 minutes before the tee time?

“This is an event where you see a few withdrawals because of the weather, but the weather has been great, so I’m thinking my chances weren’t looking good.”

Henry sought guidance from tour rules official Dillard Pruitt, who assured him there wasn’t that much to worry about. “He said if there is an extreme situation, they would make every allowance to make sure I would be OK, but I didn’t exactly know what that meant.”

First-world problem, but, hey, a conundrum is still a conundrum. Not surprisingly, Henry slept fitfully and made sure to arrange an early wake-up call, figuring that he’d hang out at Pebble’s practice range to get ready for the first set of tee times at 8 a.m. Pacific in case any of the 12 players going off first at any of the three courses dropped out.

Fortunately, when he got out of the shower around 6:15 a.m., he saw he had missed a call. John Merrick withdrew, giving Henry an 8:44 a.m. tee time with 8-handicapper Edward Vaughan, a businessman from Leesburg, Va., who would be his amateur partner, and Michael Thompson and his amateur partner.

Worry over.

New worry crept in.

“I had to get settled and get ready to play,” he said.

Henry did OK. Three bogeys, including one at the par-5 18th, against one birdie wasn’t too terrible, but Henry is trying to get his tour card back. He hasn’t finished among the top 125 and qualified for the FedEx Cup Playoffs since 2017. So far this season he has missed the cut in four of five starts.

It’s a tough way to go, not knowing your schedule and, like this week, not knowing if you’re going to even tee it up. At 44, Henry is in that phase of his career in which his skills, while still considerable, aren’t what they were at his peak while he now is competing against players who could be as young as half his age. His last victory was the 2015 Barracuda Championship.

Henry didn’t leave Pebble Beach discouraged. He still has two rounds to improve his position, make the cut, and get a fourth round, earn some FedEx points, build some confidence. The weather is supposed to remain ideal.

“I’ll come out ready tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll get a good night’s sleep.”

At least he’ll know where to be. He tees off at 8 a.m. Friday at Spyglass Hill.