Roy McAvoy, who was played by Kevin Costner in the 1996 movie “Tin Cup,” called the U.S. Open, “not just the biggest golf tournament in the world, the most democratic.”
The same could be said of the senior version of the USGA championship, and just like McAvoy reasoned about the U.S. Open, “they can't keep you out. They can't ask you if you're a garbageman or a bean-picker or a driving range pro whose check is signed by a stripper. You qualify, you're in.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Bellingham Herald
Blaine’s Keith Henderson is not a garbageman or a bean-picker, and for more than 20 years his checks were signed by Semiahmoo Country Club or Loomis Trail Golf Course, but like McAvoy, he had a desire to play against some of the best golfers in the world. And just like McAvoy, he qualified and he’s in.
Henderson will fulfill his dream at 9:55 a.m. (PDT) when he tees off along with Daniel Briggs and Todd McCorkle on the first hole of the 2017 U.S. Senior Open at the Salem Country Club in Peabody, Massachusetts.
“It’s going to be something else,” Henderson said.
In fact, Thursday’s first round will be the first one Henderson says he’s ever played in an event at a higher level than the Pacific Northwest Professional Golf Association.
“Getting through the qualifier was such a shock to me,” said Henderson, who shot a 72 and finished second at a June 12 qualifier at Bellingham Golf and Country Club to earn his trip to Massachusetts. “I know there are other guys who were probably more deserving than me.”
But you won’t find Henderson, who said this was his third qualifying attempt for the Senior Open, stepping aside. And the 53-year-old certainly has put in his time with a game he said he’s, “more passionate about now than I ever was.”
Henderson said his father introduced him to golf, but he wasn’t able to play much as a junior, and Blaine High School didn’t have a team before he graduated. He first started picking balls on the driving range when Semiahmoo opened, and that job quickly morphed into others, and Henderson said he was working in the golf shop a year and a half to two years later.
Getting through the qualifier was such a shock to me. I know there are other guys who were probably more deserving than me.
He said he turned pro in 1989, became a member of the PGA in 1996 and began serving as a head pro at Loomis Trail in 1997. Though he stepped away in 2009, he still teaches lessons now.
“My appreciation to the people at Semiahmoo and Loomis Trail is pretty huge,” Henderson said. “Even though I don’t work there anymore, I appreciate the nearly 25 years I spent there and the support those great people have given me. They’ve all been really excited about this.”
Henderson shares in that excitement.
“I’m going for the experience, and my goal is to make it a positive experience,” Henderson said. “No. 1, I’ve allowed myself to go as far as me smiling after every shot. I just want to be happy and enjoy this. I don’t want to get too into it. My expectations are not high. Eighty percent of the field I’ll be going up against have played golf for a living, and I haven’t. I’m certainly going to do my best to make it enjoyable.”
The best way Henderson said he knows how to make the trip enjoyable is to treat it as a learning experience.
This is a great opportunity for me to learn more about this game I love – some things that might seem like Golf 101 to professional players.
“This is a great opportunity for me to learn more about this game I love – some things that might seem like Golf 101 to professional players,” Henderson said. “I’m just a weekend golfer when it comes to those guys. I hope to learn from the two guys I play with or even the guys on the range. I see this as a huge positive for me. ... I’d also like to teach them a few things.”
Henderson said even hopes to learn from a member at Salem Country Club.
He planned to leave for Massachusetts earlier this week without a caddy and try to “wing it” and hire a member at the club once he arrived in New England to help carry his clubs and teach him the ins and outs of the course.
“My dreams have not gone as far as winning a trophy,” Henderson said. “But I think it’s going to be an enjoyable experience. It absolutely will be nerve-racking, and I think it will be enlightening how good those guys are. I love the game so much, and I think this will be a great chance for me to learn. If I can pick up just one thing while I’m there, it will be amazing.”
2017 U.S. Senior Open
Dates: Thursday through Sunday
Site: Salem Country Club, Peabody, Massachusetts
TV schedule: First round – 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, FS1; Second round – 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, FS1; Third round – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Channel 13; Final round – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Channel 13