Hensby sees highs and lows of golf

4/8/2005 - Mark Hensby

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Hidden among the princes of the game, with their pedigreed swings and their jet leases, there is a ringer. There's a guy who worked as a mailman during the day and washed restaurant dishes at night, a guy who came to America and slept in his car rather than return to Australia.

That guy is Mark Hensby, and he's two strokes out of the lead at The Masters. Hensby shot a 69 in the opening round, and made seven pars Friday before rain suspended play. That's steady golf, and when you've heard the 33-year-old Aussie's story, steady fits him like a new Dry-Joy.

"I see a lot of the guys out here, and they've never worked a day in their lives," Hensby said. "I see how they treat people. That's not right. They've never seen a different side of how people have to make a living."

Hensby grew up in Tamworth, a town of 32,000 about 4 hours northwest of Sydney. "It's the country music capital of Australia," he said, which could be like a town known as the kangaroo capital of Texas, but never mind. His dad Jim was in the Air Force. His mom Enid still manages a restaurant.

Hensby learned to play golf at age 12, and three years later, his handicap was plus-two. But when he finished school at age 17, he put his clubs away for three years.
"I always wanted to play golf," Hensby said. "I just didn't have time to do it the way I wanted to do it."

For one thing, it would have interfered with his day job with Australian Post (the mail service, not a newspaper). He worked in a restaurant at night, but it took four attempts to get him to own up to dishwashing.

"Don't you dare print that!" he said.

When the lure of the golf course proved too much to resist, Hensby quickly established himself as one of the top amateurs in Australia. He came to the United States, to Chicago, where his mates Ray and Julie Magill lived, in the spring of 1994. One week later, he stood outside the ropes at the Augusta National Golf Club, watching and dreaming.

Hensby went back to Chicago and continued practicing. He caddied three days a week at Butler National, the male-only club that once hosted the Western Open, and he practiced at Cog Hill, one of the best public courses in the nation.

Soon he had a couple of grand to his name, which seemed like plenty, until the Magills moved back to Australia. The only place Hensby knew to go was Cog Hill, so he practiced there by day and slept there by night.

In his Mercury hatchback. In the practice range parking lot. In October and November. In Chicago.

The biggest problem? "Keeping warm," he said.

When he got cold underneath all his jackets, Hensby would wake up, drive a few laps around the parking lot until the heater kicked in, then turn the car off and go back to sleep.

"You think, 'What am I doing? Is it really worth it?,' " he said.

Eventually, one of the range managers busted him, and told him his nights in his Motel V-6 would have to end. But the manager got him a spare room in the condo of an employee at Cog, a guy named Tom Paxson. Hensby stayed in the United States, turned pro, and went to the PGA Tour Q School.

Hensby made it onto the Nationwide Tour in 1997, and after seven seasons, he got on the PGA Tour for good a year ago. He won the John Deere Classic, had eight top-10 finishes, won more than $2.7 million, and the only dishes he washes any more are his own.

This week, he returned to Augusta National for the first time since his second week in America. His five-year-old son Chase caddied for him in the Par-3 Contest. He's on the leaderboard.

And he drives a Mercedes, which he has yet to sleep in.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Ivan.Maisel@espn3.com.