Henninger earns trip to United States Senior Open Golf Championship

Brian Henninger has been a professional golfer for over 25 years and won twice as a member of the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) Tour.

The 53-year-old Sacramento, Calif. native has earned over $4 million in his career and has played on courses all over the world.

But with a berth in the United States Senior Open Golf championship on the line on Monday at St. Clair Country Club in Belleville, Henninger admitted he was nervous after knocking home an eight-foot birdie putt on the second sudden death playoff hole with another Champions Tour member — Jay Don Blake.

“You get nervous and yes I was when I was standing over that last putt. Those 8-10 foot putts are the ones that you have to make and fortunately I made this one today,’’ Henninger said. “Then when you add the fact that its for a spot in the U.S. Open, it’s a big deal.

“I had the opportunity to play in the one (United States Senior Open) two years ago and then last year I missed by a shot. It’s an honor to play in the national championship.’’

And after making a pair of birdie putts on the back nine at St. Clair CC for a total of two-under par 34 and tying Blake for medalist honors with a 70 then outlasting the St. George, Utah native in the playoff, Henninger is headed to the United States Senior Open Golf Championship which will be held Aug. 11-14 at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio.

Jeff Whitfield of Weldon Spring, Mo. finished one shot out of the playoff with a 1-under par 71 on Monday, while Robert Huxtable of Willow Park, Tx. and Jeff Slagle, an amateur from Southlake, Tx. tied for the fourth spot with 1-over par rounds of 73.

A roller-coaster ride

Henninger, like many of the players on Monday who were getting their first look at the challenging Par 72 6,502 yard layout at St. Clair Country Club, took a few holes to get use to the course then made his move on the back nine with three birdies.

“It’s a good golf course. I didn’t play that well on the front nine, but I was able to make a couple of birdie putts coming and shoot 70. The greens? They were fast for most players. But in relation to those that we play on the Champions Tour every week, they weren’t they weren’t that fast.

“I hadn’t been playing all that well until this week at the America Family Insurance Tournament where I shot 69 and 70 the last two rounds. I come in here and shoot a 70 and so maybe I’m starting to turn things around a little bit and this is a sign of good things to come. It’s been a very inconsistent season up to this point.’’

Sudden death

Playing the par 4 418-yard No. 1 hole at St. Clair Country Club, both Blake and Henninger made fairly routine pars. Henninger missed a 17-foot birdie putt,, while Blake had a nice two-putt par from above the hole,

On the second playoff hole, the 335-yard par 4 No. 8, both players missed the fairway. Blake hit is drive left and hit hs second shot wo within 15-18 feet. Henninger found the right-hand side rough but had only 75-yards to the pin.

Henninger’s pitch shot landed within eight feet of the cup where he made the birdie putt, seconds after Blake’s putt had slid by the hole.

“I didn’t hit a great drive and it rolled into the rough there a little bit. But I had a nice angle into the pin wth a wedge amd wa sable to hit it close,’’ Henninger said. “The putt was pretty straight.’’

Also competing

Several St. Louis area players fell short in their quest to advance to the United States Senior Open Championship.

JC Anderson of O’Fallon, Mo. and David Schweitzer of Chesterfield both shot rounds of 74 while Jack Eisenbeis of St. Louis shot 77 and Walt Siemsglusz of Belleville shot an 82.

Dean Criddle: 618-239-2661, @CriddleDean