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Golf: Making the Turn – John Hendry honored with LGA’s Distinguished Service Award + more UL Golf

Dan McDonald, The Advertiser, golfballs.com, Sept. 15, 2020

The Louisiana Golf Association’s most prestigious award normally goes to a person who has devoted most of their golf-related lives to promoting and perpetuating the game on an amateur level. That makes perfect sense, since the LGA’s primary focus is on local clubs and statewide amateur competition.

That makes for irony in this year’s Distinguished Service Award, since John Hendry might never have been so deeply involved with golf had it not been for Acadiana’s premier professional sports event.

Without Hendry’s involvement in the early years of what is now the Korn Ferry Tour’s Chitimacha Louisiana Open, his attachment to the game might have been limited to squeezing in rounds whenever his successful pediatric dental practice would allow.

“You can get to know a lot of people through golf,” Hendry said not long after being informed that he was the 2020 winner of the LGA award that dates back to 1984. “That’s how I met Valerie Cox, and she got me involved with the USGA and its youth golf program, and it just went from there. You start doing that, and you meet others who are doing the same thing, and you make good golf connections.”

Valerie Cox was one of the driving forces, along with Herb Schilling and others, in a successful upgrading of the original Louisiana Open to a spot on a nationally recognized PGA Tour-supported tour. That happened in 1992 when the Open earned a spot on the fledgling Ben Hogan Tour, which the PGA Tour inaugurated two years earlier as a pipeline for players to advance to the “big” tour.

“Valerie was the original executive director and I was the volunteer chairman for the Open,” Hendry said. “She asked me at one point if I was interested in getting involved with junior golf on a national level.”

That led to Hendry’s service on the USGA Junior Championship Committee beginning in 1994 and continuing to this date. He’s been the man in charge of the U.S. Junior Amateur’s sectional qualifier for the past 25 years and has been a rules official at 20 USGA championships.

That happened simultaneously with increased involvement in the local professional tournament, one that awarded $125,000 in purse money in its 1992 inaugural season and which now awards $600,000 to a strong professional field each March.

Hendry was on the Open’s board starting in 1989, before it was a part of a professional tour, and he served as the Open’s president from 1995-2003. During that time, the Louisiana Open flourished in its formative years and became one of the standard bearers on the Hogan/Nike/Buy.com/Nationwide/Web.com/Korn Ferry Tour.

“Everything kind of started with the Louisiana Open,” he said, “and we were fortunate that we had people working with the Open who did it right and did it for the right reasons. In the early years, when we’d go to the tour’s national workshops, we’d talk about our tournament and the tour started sending some of their new startups to Louisiana to see our organizational structure and what we were doing.”

Hendry’s focus in those years was increasing tournament awareness, and the offshoots there were huge increases in the tournament’s charitable contributions and its youth golf involvement. To date, the Louisiana Open has donated over $5 million to local and regional charities and youth programs.

“We wanted the Open to be successful, because we knew it would help raise the level of golf in the community and we could use that for the betterment of the community, not just the tournament,” he said. “Some of our discussions way back were how do you get people there, what’s the hook. We gave a lot of money to charities, but the ultimate goal was to get kids involved because they’re the future of golf.”

One program, revolutionary at the time, involved helping the Lafayette High band make a trip to the Macy’s parade in New York. The band sold Open tickets and kept half the proceeds to help finance that trip, with the condition that the band provide a wave of volunteers to help stage the tournament. The same principles were used with several other groups, a tradition that continues in similar form to this day.

“It helped us raise charitable dollars and gave us the manpower to put on a classy, successful tournament,” he said. “A lot of people got involved through that.”

Hendry remained on the Open board for a while after his nine-year stint as president, part of that as chairman emeritus, but most in local golf circles know him now as a champion for youth golf. Along with his service on the LGA Board of Directors from 2000-08, he is the founder and chairman of the Louisiana Golf Foundation and is a major supporter of the LGA’s Louisiana Junior Golf Tour through that foundation.

He’s also been involved with the Ron Guidry and Friends celebrity tournament that raises funds for Special Olympics, and the Acadiana Cup’s international golf event that pairs Lafayette with its sister Francophone cities. It’s made juggling his professional, family and golf lives a challenge at times – much like he thought a month ago when learned of the award from LGA executive director Logan Ray.

“I see Logan’s baby as a patient,” Hendry said, “and I was playing golf at Oakbourne, on about the 16th hole, when Logan called me. When a friend calls you on the weekend, I’m figuring something’s happened and there’s going to be an office visit. That’s when he told me.

“A lot of people have the opportunity in golf to be in just one world, amateur or pro. I had the chance to be involved with both, and in the greatest game there is. With the handicaps, an ‘A’ player or a pro can play with a beginner and you can’t do that in any other sport. You get to know people through golf and you learn the rules and principles, and then you realize what a benefit that is, learning those personal traits that last a lifetime.”

Chip Shots

CAJUN OPENER: UL’s golf team had its ups and downs in its first fall tournament of the season this week, but Tuesday’s final day was an “up” … and there’s a significant caveat to the Ragin’ Cajuns’ performance in the La. Tech-hosted Jim Rivers Intercollegiate held at Squire Creek in Choudrant.

The Cajuns finished ninth in the 12-team field with an 884 score, jumping up one spot after a one-over 289 team score on Tuesday. Along with that team finish, junior Peter Hinnant capped a strong individual performance with a final-round three-under 69 that put him at three-under 73-71-69–213 and in a tie for fifth in the 73-player field.

The tournament used a six-player format and counted the best four scores, but UL only had five players available off its normal nine-man roster. The other four were – and remain — in quarantine from one positive coronavirus test and that player’s contact with three roommates. That meant that pre-tournament qualification, the determining factor on what Cajun players take part in tournament events, was thrown out and the lineup was left to the five available players.

That put a lot more pressure on first-time freshmen Matt Weber and Jake Marler, who joined Hinnant, Bjorn Gudjonsson and Cole Kendrick to form a lineup that still played one player short than the rest of the field.

Weber, a native of Scott who redshirted last year, carded 76-74-72—222 to finish second among the Cajuns and tied for 30th overall, while Marler was at 75-74-76—225 in his debut, Gudjonsoon rallied from an opening 79 for a 73-73 final two rounds to also finish at 225 and Kendrick came back from an opening 83 to shoot 77-75 and finish at 235.

Cajun coach Theo Sliman is hoping that the quarantine group is back playing by UL’s next event, the Graeme McDowell Invitational in Birmingham, Ala., on Sept. 29-30.

BILL BASS OPEN: There were questions about whether the Bill Bass Open, UL’s annual Homecoming golf event that raises funds for the Cajun golf team, would be held amid the pandemic. However, tournament organizers have now given the go-ahead, and the traditional event is now set for Friday, Oct. 16, at its regular Les Vieux Chenes home.

The tournament, which dates back two decades, will again be a four-person scramble and will include the opportunity to meet all members of the UL golf team who will be stationed at selected holes on the course.

Virus protocols that include one rider per cart will limit this year’s field to 18 teams and 72 players, so those who have participated in the past or wish to play this year should enter as soon as possible since no entries will be accepted after 72 paid entries are received. Entry fee remains at $125 for RCAF members and $150 for others, which includes lunch, drinks on the course, range balls, tee gifts and door prizes. Entries and more information are available by calling (337) 857-8754 or e-mailing danmcdonald@cox.net.

BASEBALL GOLF: UL’s baseball squad will hold its fund-raiser tournament on Monday, Oct. 5, at Oakbourne, and entries are still being accepted for the four-person scramble tournament.

Registration and lunch begin at noon with a 1 p.m. shotgun start, with prizes to the top three teams and closest to the hole on all par-threes. Entry fee is $1,000 pr four-man team or $250 for an individual, with $100 hole sponsorships and $325 for a playing spot and a hole sponsorship available. All include fees, a Ragin’ Cajun hat and shirt, Adidas branded apparel and food and beverages.

Entry deadline is Sept. 30 for the event sponsored by Home Bank and Russo Exploration and hosted by the Chitimacha Louisiana Open. Entries and information are available from Danny Jones at 593-8000 or djones@laopen.com.

“Making the Turn” appears each Wednesday in the Daily Advertiser through November. Clubs, courses and individuals with information about local golf events may email Dan McDonald, editorial director at Golfballs.com, at danmcdonald@cox.net, FAX to (337) 857-8763 or call (337) 857-8754 and leave a message with phone number.