For the first time in 75 years, the U.S. Open Championship is being contested in Tinsel Town at The Los Angeles Country Club, just a Rory McIlroy drive away from the epicenter of the motion picture industry. Movie magic is made in Hollywood, and if any creative script writers are looking for their next subject, one contestant in this year’s field might be the perfect fit.
Meet Uber-driving, card-carrying Asian Tour member Berry Henson.
The 43-year-old journeyman’s story is almost too good to be true. Except it is.
Henson found his way to The Los Angeles Country Club thanks to playing 7-under-par golf on June 5 at Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, N.J., but his path to the year’s third major championship has had more detours than a missionary.
“I always felt my game was perfect for an Open,” said Henson. “I made some great swings down the stretch.”
Seven times he has tried to get his PGA Tour card. Seven times he has come up just short.
When asked by Golf Channel’s Jimmy Roberts how many times he’s attempted to get into the U.S. Open, Henson, a Southern California native who was born in Thousand Oaks and grew up in Palm Desert, could only say it began in 1998 “and I’ve tried on almost every continent other than Europe.” That includes final qualifiers in Japan, Hawaii – yes, the state once had a qualifier – and California.
And when a pair of wrist injuries sidelined him seven years ago, Henson started driving for Uber, first for charity and then as he grew to love the gig, as a means of paying off his rental car during the 10 weeks a year he spends in the Coachella Valley.
Did we mention that Henson lives 9½ months a year in Thailand at Black Mountain Golf Club in Prachaubkirikhan? The club’s logo is planted on the left chest of his golf attire. A career bachelor with no kids, Henson has the freedom to move about and living in that part of the world gives him better access to Asian Tour events. In fact, it was a tie for second at the International Series Oman earlier this year that moved Henson inside the top 500 of the Official World Golf Ranking, making him locally exempt from U.S. Open qualifying.
Normally one to sign up for West Coast qualifiers or Japan, Henson chose to come to the Northeast on the advice of another golf journeyman and Asian Tour friend, Andy Pope, who had previously qualified for a couple of his five U.S. Open appearances in Metropolitan New York. Pope was in the field but failed to advance.
Henson seemed headed in that direction after making a double-bogey at the opening hole of the South Course, yet with the assistance and guidance of his local caddie, Narayan Murti, Henson righted the ship to post a 6-under 64. He grinded out a 1-under 71 on the North Course in the afternoon to earn one of the four available tickets to LACC.
The day included a pair of chip-ins and 30-footers at an old-school facility that typically rewards players with great short games.
“I thought it would be a putting contest, but they cut the greens to make them super-fast and firm,” said Henson. “It played into my short game, and my short game was exceptional today. I leaned on it a lot.”
With no scoreboards, players often rely on instincts or information off their phones to keep abreast of the leader board and potential cutline. Henson wanted no part of that. He’d been through this drill too many times. In Hawaii one year, he missed qualifying in a playoff. This was a time to temper expectations.
He had put in the hard work over the past several months, eating better and trimming his body fat by 2 percent. With temperatures in the upper 60s and a breeze to make it seem like April 5 instead of June 5, the 36-hole marathon was less of a physical grind.
The funny thing is golf was never Henson’s first love. He wanted to play Division I basketball until his sophomore year at Palm Desert High when he had a falling out with the varsity coach. The school’s golf team at the time included a future U.S. Junior Amateur champion (Jason Allred) and future Division I men’s golf coach with a golf pedigree (Michael Beard). Beard is now the head coach of Pepperdine, which won the NCAA title in 2021 under his tutelage.
“I learned a ton from hanging around Mike,” said Henson. “I was so athletic, I got better at golf just being around those guys.”
Henson was admittedly just trying to keep up during the 1998 season in which Palm Desert won the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern California Golf Association team title. He landed at the University of San Diego and five years later he turned professional in 2003.
People constantly told Henson he didn’t have the chops to play professionally. He just tuned out the white noise and kept pursuing his dream, even if it eventually took him halfway around the globe. He won the 2011 Philippine Open and the 2013 Long Beach Open.
Rather than chase Monday qualifiers for PGA Tour and Korn Ferry Tour events in the U.S., where only a handful of guys get into the event, Henson is comfortable playing in Asia and Europe where he has status and can construct a workable schedule.
When he first joined the play-for-pay ranks, Henson worked part-time for Marriott to supplement his income and save on hotel bills. That lasted until 2013 when the chain dropped him because of his heavy competitive schedule.
Now Henson has Uber to defray some costs. He already has amassed 3,000 rides in the past seven years, and he was planning on driving the week of the U.S. Open until informed he receives a Lexus courtesy car for championship week.
Before the start of his final qualifier, Henson was perusing flights back home to Thailand where he planned to play in a small mixed event in a couple of weeks. Fortunately, he never booked anything. Now he’ll need a way to find tickets for friends and family to possibly complete a storybook week at LACC, a course he played once previously with an assistant pro.
Hollywood writers, get those typewriters ready.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.