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Making His Mark
Sally Jenkins
May 01, 1995
Brian Henninger became famous overnight with his showing at last month's Masters
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May 01, 1995

Making His Mark

Brian Henninger became famous overnight with his showing at last month's Masters

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He took a job as a valet, parking cars and cleaning golf clubs, at the La Quinta Hotel Golf & Tennis Resort and lived in a grungy apartment with no furniture save for a futon on the floor and a wooden cable spool for a table. He got by on tips from the wealthy members. "You'd take the clubs from the car and get a hit, carry them up to the cart and get another hit, wash them and get another hit," he says. After winning the Queen Mary Open, in Long Beach, Calif., in the summer of 1989, he bought a ring and proposed to Cathy Bosworth, an Oregon college student he had met while she was waitressing and he was helping out at one of his father's restaurants. Cathy didn't mind sleeping on the floor, and she believed in his talent, because the only time she had ever seen him play, he won the Pacific Coast Amateur.

But by '91 Henninger was still struggling. Most of the couple's support came from Cathy, who was working in an interior design firm and juggling bills that ranged from his student loan to car payments. Henninger was playing the Ben Hogan (now Nike) Tour and drove from event to event, eight weeks on the road at a time, in an '88 Mustang, while Cathy stayed home in Portland. At the end of the year he had barely cleared $10,000 and failed at the PGA Tour qualifying tournament for the second time. He could no longer afford to chase his dream of playing on the Tour.

Henninger approached a group of businessmen in Eugene for sponsorship. They agreed to front him expense money for 1992. Before the first check came through, Cathy got an eviction notice. Depressed and humiliated, Henninger was ready to go back out to another string of mini-tour events but didn't have any cash. He went to one of the businessmen, Cordy Jensen, owner of a restaurant called the Oregon Electric Station. Jensen handed him $1,000. "There were a lot of low points," Henninger says now. "But that was urgent. It was the bottom."

In February, Henninger struck out for the South Texas Open, in Portland, Texas. Early one morning he stopped at a Las Vegas diner for breakfast and then got back in the car. Two hours down the road, he realized he had left his wallet, with $200 of Jensen's cash, in the diner. Cathy's grandmother in Kingman, Ariz., gave him some coffee and money. He reached Portland in time to tee off without a practice round—and won the tournament in a playoff.

Henninger called home and cried. "I was bawling my eyes out," Cathy says. "Because I really feel that if he had gone down to Texas and things hadn't worked out, he would have been finished. He couldn't have done it anymore."

Then he won the Macon (Ga.) Open and three weeks later the Knoxville (Tenn.) Open. In Knoxville he ditched the Mustang, which was on its last legs, and bought a new pickup. He finished second on the 1992 Hogan Tour money list, with $128,301 in winnings, to finally earn his way onto the PGA Tour, where he has been ever since.

Henninger has the uncanny ability to do something big just when he is most up against it. He has struggled so far in '95, missing six cuts in 13 events, but his Masters performance transforms his record. Jacobsen predicts he will add another title to his resume soon. "He hits it solid," Jacobsen says. "A lot of guys out here just catch it somewhere on the face. That pro is living on borrowed time. Not Brian."

Jacobsen is as impressed by Henninger's demeanor as he is by his game. On the eve of the Masters final, Jacobsen left a note in Henninger's locker that said, "Be patient and enjoy." After Henninger's disappointing 76, Jacobsen ran into him at T-Bones Steakhouse in Augusta. "So, how'd you like it?" Jacobsen asked.

Jacobsen expected Henninger to moan about the sneaky pin placements or the unfairness of the greens. Instead, Henninger spoke about what he learned from playing with Crenshaw. "A lot of kids come out here and think they know all the answers," Jacobsen says. "When they break out of the fame gate, they tend to talk about how they got screwed by this bounce or that bounce. Brian didn't feel sorry for himself, and he didn't talk about himself; he talked about Ben. It wasn't a defeat. He learned."

The next thing Henninger has to learn is how to cope with his new status. His manager, former USC teammate Bill Bentley of Cornerstone Sports in Dallas, suspects Henninger has not yet grasped the profound change in his fortunes. Henninger has been making good money for nearly two years now—he was 63rd on the money list last year, with $294,075. In addition Bentley landed his client contracts with Callaway, Descente and Titleist worth about $250,000 a year, plus performance clauses, some of which kicked in with his Masters showing. "Most people on the Tour don't understand on their worst day what John Q. Public goes through every day," Bentley says. "Brian and Cathy have seen that side of life, where you scramble to make a car payment, and $500 pays for your whole week. I don't think Brian has understood yet what a significant thing has happened to him."

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