It is one of the great perks of playing the PGA TOUR’s John Deere Classic. The top three finishers who finish inside the top 10 at TPC Deere Run this week and who are not otherwise exempt will receive a last-minute invitation to play in the 150th Open Championship to be played at St Andrews from July 14-17.
In 2022 it is the most coveted tournament exemption on the planet yet 18 years ago Hensby chose to turn it down.
Tied for third at last week’s US Senior Open, Hensby returns to the site of his lone PGA Tour triumph this week and has revealed why in 2004 he chose not to make the mad dash to Royal Troon for what would have been his maiden appearance in a major championship.
In an interview for the recently released book, Aussies At The Open, which charts Australia’s history at golf’s oldest major championship, Hensby has told why he declined the winner’s exemption… and the piece of information that would have changed his mind.
“It was a lot of things, to be honest,” Hensby says.
“I think I played four or five weeks in a row, not that that was the main issue. Obviously, I’d just won so I’m on a pretty big high, but I didn’t have my passport. Being on the road for that long, you don’t take your passport with you.”
Hensby checked his flight options and couldn’t have arrived at Royal Troon until the day before The Open began.
“How prepared am I going to be if I don’t show up until Wednesday?” he adds. “I’m riding a pretty good high right now. Do I want to go there and shoot a million and lose some confidence?
“There were so many things going through my head but now I look back, I should have just gone, no doubt. If it happened now, I’d go.
“Then the [PGA Tour] commissioner, I remember talking to Tim Finchem probably the next year, and he says, ‘Well, we could have got you over there.’ I’m thinking, Why didn’t you tell me that? You tell me that now?
“It’s definitely a regret because, if I knew what I knew now, I definitely would have played.”
Fortunately for Hensby, his fine form continued and he ended up playing in The Open each of the next three years, his 67 in the first round of the 2005 Open at St Andrews one of the lowest ever recorded by an Australian in their Open debut.
Hensby is one of eight Aussies in the field this week hoping to add their name to the list of exempt players for The Open.
Also chasing a late invite are Aaron Baddeley, Greg Chalmers, Cam Davis, Jason Day, Brett Drewitt, Cameron Percy and John Senden.