RENO — J.J. Henry’s reign as defending champion of the Reno-Tahoe Open got off to an inauspicious start.
“I had to be over the mountain (Tahoe area) for a sponsor’s event on Monday, and my manager and I decided to go mid-day, check out the lake and grab some lunch,” Henry said during a press conference on Tuesday afternoon at Montreux Golf & Country Club, site of the 15th annual Reno-Tahoe Open. “We had just got to the entrance to Mt. Rose (ski resort) when unfortunately the car conked out on the side of Mt. Rose. I probably could have found a better place to break down than that.
“Obviously we weren’t far from Montreux, and I contacted Chris Hoff (tournament director), and he was kind enough to bring me a car and off we went. It was an adventurous hour and a half that we had.”
Henry is obviously hoping that the breakdown isn’t a pre-cursor of a bad tournament. Henry won a year ago with 43 points, edging Alexandre Rocha by a single-point in the new Modified Stableford scoring system. He’s seeking to become the second two-time winner of the event which kicks off at 7 a.m. Thursday.
Henry has played in the event seven previous times, and after missing the cut the first time, he’s finished no worse than 29th the past six years. He makes no bones about liking the course, and the new format.
“It’s a unique event,” Henry said. “It’s a great format. Not only is this an incredible place to be at this time of the year, but this is a great golf course. All the players have grasped the idea, and it’s only going to get bigger and better as players find out about the course. It was a huge success last year.
“When I got here, I started thinking about some of the things that happened to me last year. I made a few eagles throughout the tournament, and in this format, that’s what it’s all about. You have to capitalize on aggressive play and make the occasional eagle or extra birdie, and obviously avoid double-bogey or worse. In this format a birdie and bogey is better than two pars. There are a lot of risk-reward holes here. It reminds me lot of the Stableford event (The International) played outside of Denver.”
Henry tied for 31st at last week’s Canadian Open, cashing a check for $30,426. In 71 rounds, he’s averaging 71.55 and is 102nd in money with $719,006.
“My game feels pretty good,” Henry said. “I’ve had a couple of good weeks in the last three or four weeks. I love being here; enjoy playing here.”
Eight past champions, including Henry, are in the field this week.
Besides Henry, Scott Verplank (2000), Chris Riley (2002), Vaughn Taylor (2004-05), Steve Flesch (2007), Parker McLachlin (2008), John Rollins (2009) and Matt Bettencourt (2010) are previous winners of the $3 million tournament.
“This is a great field,” said tournament host and entrant Scott McCarron on the driving range on Tuesday “I think it’s the best we’ve had in the history of the event.”
It’s hard to argue when you look at the total field which includes 11 golfers who have won majors in their careers — Padraig Harrington (2007-08 British Open, 2008 PGA), Todd Hamilton (2004 British Open), Ben Curtis (2003 British Open), Mike Weir (2003 Masters), David Toms (2001 PGA), Davis Love III (1997 PGA), Trevor Immelman (2008 Masters), Shaun Micheel (2003 PGA), Rich Beem (2002 PGA), David Duval (2001 British Open) and Lee Janzen (1993 and 98 U.S. Open).
The addition of Toms and Love were big, according to Hoff.
“We were excited to add these world-class players to our roster,” Hoff said recently. “Their legacies bring even more excitement to what is shaping up to be a deep and impressive field of golfers at this year’s Reno-Tahe Open.”
“I talked to Davis about coming last year, but he decided to go on vacation,” McCarron said. “He loved playing the International. I think it was a big plus. He’s going to the Hall of Fame and he was a Ryder Cup captain.”