U.S. Open 36-hole co-leader Russell Henley’s caddie Todd Gjesvold excited for weekend
Twenty-six-year veteran caddie Todd Gjesvold and his player Russell Henley will tee off in the very last group with with Richard Bland on Saturday as 36-hole co-leaders of the 121st U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
Gjesvold, a Washington native, looks forward to all that comes with the spotlight for this U.S. Open.
“I think the bottom line is no matter what happens (today), we’re going to be better because of it,” Gjesvold said late Friday. “Russell has never been in the final group of a major as far as I know. He’s had success with leading tournaments, not majors, but it’s going to be a great learning experience and I’m just excited about it.”
Though the moment will be a big one, Gjesvold feels ready with how to manage it.
“I won’t be thinking about winning the tournament until somewhere on the back nine Sunday if we have a chance as there’s just so much more ahead of us before the end of Sunday,” Gjesvold.
Gjesvold knows how quickly a good opportunity on Sunday can disappear at a U.S. Open, based on their experience at the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills.
“I think we were three or four back starting Sunday. We really had a bad back nine and didn’t contend for the most part (finishing tied for 25th),” Gjesvold said.
What did they learn from being close then and being around the first and second-round lead?
“That it’s such an absolute marathon the U.S. Open, it’s great to be leading the golf tournament but you just have to stay focused with every shot and just grind it out,” Gjesvold said. “He’s playing pretty even-keeled. When we miss the fairway we’ve been getting into the bunkers for the most part. We haven’t had anything really bad out of the rough.”
Speaking of focusing on each shot, Gjesvold sent Henley a text last night that went with a theme that they talk about all the time. It read, “It’s just you, me and the golf course and that’s it.”
Sometimes it’s good to just look at the things you can control, and in this case Gjesvold knew there are many household names lurking just behind them, including tournament favorite Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, Brooks Koepka and many more.
“I was seeing what the cut was, there’s a lot of big names all over the place and I think you can get overwhelmed by thinking about what everybody else is doing. I just wanted (with my text) to remind him, and remind myself that all we can do is what we can do,” he said. “We start thinking about things and it just distracts you from the ultimate prize. It’s a good reminder because this week is a busy week.”
One of the big reasons why Henley’s in this envious position — tied for the lead on the weekend — is his solid driving accuracy. That’s taken a lot of stress off his short game because he’s had primarily wedges and 9-irons into these par-4 greens according to Gjesvold.
“I would say that he’s playing solid all the way around, but specifically his driving has really been solid and key for us,” Gjesvold said. “We really haven’t had to get up and down out of a lot of places because we’re hitting 150-yard shots into greens.”
Gjesvold has only caddied in one Farmers Insurance Open, so it’s not easy to compare the conditions he’s seeing this week.
“The greens haven’t been really firm as U.S. Opens can be. I’m sure this weekend they’ll get firmer,” Gjesvold said. “It’s been fairly pressure free. You miss the fairway in the bunker, most of these bunkers are definitely playable out of.”
With Henley shooting 4-under 67 and 1-under 70 the first two days on a hard golf course, Gjesvold understands that his player likes this kind of test. He also liked it during his first ever major as a 21-year-old amateur in the 2010 U.S. Open.
“Russell always plays well on hard golf courses, he’s done so at PGA National (win in 2014) which I think is another course similar to this one,”Gjesvold said. “I think he’s got a lot of mental toughness and as an amateur he was 16th in the U.S. Open at Pebble. He does well on tough golf courses and I think that’s a testament to his mental abilities and just grinding it out.”
Speaking of grinding it out, when Henley and Gjesvold began to talk game-plan for their second round, they didn’t give much thought to where they stood on the leaderboard.
“We didn’t really talk about the fact that we were leading the tournament but I think it was understood that there was just so much golf to play,” Gjesvold said. “You could miss the cut even if you began by leading the tournament. You can shoot 80 on this course very easily. You just know to just keep grinding away.”
Gjesvold said Henley had a comfortable grouping for days one and two with former Georgia Bulldog teammate Harris English and the amicable Mackenzie Hughes. All three seemed to feed off their energy well and they all stand in the top 20.
Henley now will play with journeyman European Tour player Richard Bland of England, who Gjesvold had never heard of until this week. But that kind of low-profile status could be advantageous for the dynamics of a usually stressful final pairing.
“I don’t think Richard’s an intimidating guy like some of the other players (superstars near the lead) and I think that’s a good thing,” Gjesvold said. “We just both know there’s so much golf still to be played and so we gotta keep grinding away.”
Henley and Gjesvold have been together since 2016 at the Sanderson Farms in Jackson Mississippi, and what the veteran looper sees from Henley’s countenance this week is very encouraging to him.
“He seems really poised and he’s pretty relaxed and it’s just business as well,” Gjesvold.
All business is good, especially when it’s arguably the hardest tournament in golf.