Dick Harmon: Golf: Henderson had his brush with Tiger Woods and Fame, but now he's back at BYU to finish his degree

Published: Monday, Oct. 10 2011 11:25 p.m. MDT

PROVO —

He stood off to the side, a little behind the stars and Hall of Famers who were there Monday at Riverside Country Club.

He listened and enjoyed the banter of Johnny Miller and Billy Casper, and he watched Dean Wilson and Mike Reid hit balls in front of a Cougar Day crowd gathered at the first tee for an entertaining clinic.

He heard Miller, perhaps golf's best TV analyst ever, say Tiger Woods will have a very good future career but it will never be what it was at the start or middle of his bright, blinding days in the sun.

Michael Henderson listened and smiled.

Henderson, who played golf for BYU from 1996 to 1998, had a story none of them could match and few even know.

I caught up with Henderson and asked him to share it.

Henderson was at Isleworth Golf and Country Club a few years ago, right before Woods began his big struggle with his health, his game and his marriage. There, in Windermere, Fla., Henderson practiced with Woods and Mark O'Meara. Tiger introduced Henderson to his wife, Elin, and said, "Here's the guy who beat my butt."

How many guys on a driving range have heard Tiger Woods say that?

Henderson is 34, two years younger than Woods.

Once upon a time, Henderson had one glorious year of golf when he was on top of the world as a high school athlete in 1992 at Millbrook High in Raleigh, N.C. It bled into summer tournaments where he excelled on the American Junior Golf Association circuit.

That was the summer he beat Tiger in match play and earned AJGA Player of the Year honors over Mr. Woods, who then went on to become the most dominating golfer of the past 15 years.

Henderson and his partner Robert Floyd beat Woods and Michael Walton 3 and 1 for the Canon Cup, an East-vs.-West event on the AJGA Tour. Because Henderson won more AJGA events and amassed more player points, he earned the title of the AJGA's top player.

"It was the easiest summer of golf I've ever had," said Henderson.

It was the summer he won North Carolina high school medalist honors and his team took state. He then won the first three junior tournaments he entered in Louisiana, South Carolina and North Carolina. He finished second in the Big I National Junior event when he should have won that, too. He triple-bogeyed the final hole and lost by one stroke.

"It was great, I had a ball," said Henderson. "The most fun was just being around great golfers all the time, people like Tiger."

Henderson said sometimes in sports, something very special happens — and nobody knows why.

"Sometimes things seem so easy," he sid. "All of a sudden, things just all fall into place and you feel like you didn't have anything to do with it. It wasn't because I was a great player, I just had a great year."

After his BYU career, Henderson moved to Orlando, Fla., and played the mini tours in Canada and South America. He got married nine years ago and now has three children, ages 5, 15 months and 5 months.

With three children, he came home one day from golf and decided it was too tough to keep it going. He and his wife Gretchen discussed what he'd do after golf and it worried him he didn't have his college degree.

So now, the Hendersons have moved back to Provo, where he needs two years to finish his degree and he might go on and get a master's degree as well.

"Gretchen, well, there could be a hundred articles written about Gretchen. If I wanted to keep playing golf, she'd be a hundred percent behind it. If I quit for school, she'd still absolutely be there all the way," says Henderson.

This past weekend, Woods began to make a comeback after two painful years in golf and in his personal life. Woods fired three rounds of 68 in the Fry's Classic and tied for 30th, 10 strokes off the lead. For the first time in 15 years, Tiger is not ranked in the Top 50 in the world, and he missed two majors and failed to qualify for the Fed Ex Cup playoffs.

On Monday, Henderson remembered playing against Tiger, his gamesmanship, his psychological games, his fierce focus, determination and drive to win — all of which he saw first-hand duiring the summer of '92.

"I grew up in an area where people tried to get in your face, talk and play mind games," Henderson said. "I loved it when Tiger did it. I enjoyed that style, that competition, trying to get the edge. He was good at it then. It doesn't make for fast friends, but it was part of the game to try and get an edge. At the time, I loved it, I thought I was better than him. It turns out I wasn't."

Now Tiger is battling to return to the stardom he once enjoyed.

On Monday, Henderson told his story before he had to get to class where he'd sit among folks 10 to 12 years younger. He'll return at the end of the day to his wife and kids. Tiger will not.

On Monday, Henderson remembered how Tiger introduced him to Elin and O'Meara.

"I thought, 'Hey, he still remembers me.' He's probably got a lot of guys he'd like to forget," Henderson said. "It's nice to be one of the guys he'd like to forget."

Email: dharmon@desnews.com

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