Brantford’s Dennis Hendershott won’t soon forget playing in his first PGA Tour Champions golf event.
“It was nice to make it into a major, not just a regular Champions Tour event,” said the 50-year-old who recently returned from Royal Lytham and St. Annes in England where he tied for 70th at the Senior British Open Championship.
Hendershott said he was “very excited” when he Monday qualified for the tournament.
“That was probably the only time I got emotional and excited about it because I knew that I finally qualified for one,” he said.
“To cross the Atlantic to do a one-day qualifier, that part of it was pretty satisfying.”
Earlier in the year, Hendershott attempted to qualify for the Senior U.S. Open but missed by a single shot after firing a 72 in tough conditions. That was one of six Champions events he had unsuccessfully tried to enter prior to the British.
Still, he determined and kept the British Open on his schedule, arriving in England on July 19 to a stay in a house with three friends.
“I was the only guy in the house who hadn’t played in a Champions Tour event,” said Hendershott. “We played a couple of days (for practice) and it was pretty benign. I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness this course is easy.’
“Then we wake up on Monday and it was sustained 40 (km-h winds) with 60-kilometre gusts and it had rained all night.”
Teeing off at 7:20 a.m. for his qualifying round, he played through some of the worst weather. He was able to see his name in third place on the leaderboard in the afternoon with more than half of the field in the clubhouse.
But, with the the final groups on the course, the conditions changed.
“The wind just absolutely died,” said Hendershott, who had his stepfather, Ray Kinnard, as his caddie for the qualifier. “I thought, ‘Are you kidding me?’
“I’m looking outside and the flag just drops flat. Sure enough, I start seeing some red scores through the turn.”
With only 12 spots available to get through the qualifier and into the tournament, Hendershott had to wait almost seven hours for everyone to finish before finding out he would be in a playoff after tying for 10th.
The playoff featured seven players, with a group of four going out before Hendershott’s threesome. With the group ahead on the green at the 357-yard hole, the starters asked the threesome if they were ready to tee off.
Hendershott knew he could get close to the green and he didn’t disappoint, ripping his ball to the fringe and then two-putting for the first birdie of the playoff and a spot in the British Open. Hundreds of text and Facebook messages poured in but, after getting over the initial excitement of qualifying, Hendershott refocused.
“I felt very comfortable,” he said of his pre-tournament feelings. “There was no nerves.
“I was there to play well and be competitive. This was not a one-off for me.”
Hendershott wound up shooting rounds of 71, 74, 71 and 75 to finish tied for 70th. He was the second Canadian in the field behind Stephen Ames.
“I had disappointment after, to be honest with you, because I only made one birdie over the final 36 holes,” he said. “I knew that I played well enough that I could have easily finished in the top-30.”
After returning home, he played in the PGA Seniors’ Championship of Canada last week where he finished sixth.
“That was a major to me,” Hendershott said. “I really wanted to compete there.
“I … only made five bogeys over three days but I only made nine birdies.
“I’m really starting to show up at golf tournaments and not have any doubt that I’m going to be par or better. It’s just whether or not I make putts.”
Later this week, he’ll play in the $125,000 Sani-Marc/Desjardins Canada Cup at the Victoriaville Golf Club in Victoriaville, Que.
After that, Hendershott will try to qualify for at least four more Champions events.
He said he’s confident the best is yet to come.
He noted that he played with former world No. 1 Freddie Couples on the Sunday of the Senior British Open
“I know I can compete with him,” said Hendershott. “I made no birdies, he made two bombs and beat me by two.
“This is more validation in the work that I’ve put in.”
And Hendershott isn’t the only member of his family celebrating success. His daughter, Hailey, recently captured the under-19 girls championship at the Galt Country Club.