Uber driver Berry Henson set for first major appearance after qualifying for US Open
(CNN) — In various households across the Palm Springs area this week, some Californians will have seen the face of a previous Uber driver staring back at them on sports broadcasts and online articles.
While many of the passengers Berry Henson has taxied during some 3,000 rides knew he played golf, few were aware of just how good he is. On Thursday, their 4.99-rated driver will tee off at Los Angeles Country Club for the US Open.
The 43-year-old’s world has turned upside down since he stamped his ticket to the 123rd edition of the tournament with a dominant performance across 36 holes in final stage qualifying at Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, New Jersey on July 5.
Henson, ranked 444th in the world, shot seven-under overall to clinch the second of four available spots from the 67-player field.
Dubbed “Golf’s Longest Day,” the second and final stage of sectional qualifiers hosted across the US and Canada confirmed the last of the 64 US Open places, whittled down from the record 10,187 entries who attempted qualification this year.
For Henson, who has played just three events on the PGA Tour since turning pro in 2003, the US Open will mark a dream first career major appearance.
“So many emotions have been going on the last seven days,” Henson told CNN’s Dan Moriarty. “So many things to be thankful for, so many things to be humble for.
“To put in the work that I’ve put in the last few years and reach a goal that has been a dream, I don’t know if I can summarize it right now … I’m just living a day at a time.
“I feel like I’m leading a golf tournament every day. New emotions, new feelings, but I feel like I’m getting through it pretty good.”
Better yet, it will effectively be a home tournament for Henson, born a one-hour drive away in Thousand Oaks.
And, given his second job away from the golf course, they are roads he knows well.
Henson began driving for Uber in 2016 when he was temporarily sidelined by a wrist injury. Looking for something to occupy his restless mind, as well as needing to rent a car, ferrying passengers in the Palm Springs area offered a convenient solution to both problems.
Racking up rides in spare time away from the fairways, he used the money earned to pay off the costs of his rental car and food expenses, as well as raising money for a charity in Thailand, where he now lives.
Favorite passengers have included actor Ke Huy Quan, who played Richard “Data” Wang in his beloved film “The Goonies,” as well as Australian tennis star Nick Kyrgios.
Henson chatted at length with his fellow athlete about the trials and tribulations of professional sport, though the majority of his passengers typically have to play a game to find out their driver’s true occupation.
“I usually let them ask me questions to find out what I really do and I can only answer yes or no,” Henson said.
“A lot of my Uber passengers, when they find out what I do, end up following me on social media – they can’t believe it at first.
“I’ve had a bunch of them message me this week like, ‘Oh my gosh you were our Uber driver!’ I think I might have a few of them out here rooting me on this week, you never know.”
Teeing up alongside the game’s biggest stars Thursday will mark the greatest stopover yet in what has been a long and winding road for the self-described “journeyman.”
Pepsi Tour, Hooters Tour, eGolf Tour: name a professional golf league and Henson has probably played it over the course of his 20-year career.
After several attempts to gain his card for the PGA Tour and DP World Tour (formerly the European Tour) via Qualifying School narrowly fell short, in 2011 the University of San Diego alumnus found himself down to his last sponsor.
Needing to take a big swing, Henson forked out $5,000 to compete on the Asian Tour. The gamble paid off: he rattled off two wins in his rookie season and, having settled in Thailand, has played most of his golf on the tour for the last decade.
“It’s been an unbelievable place for me to get better, hone my game,” he said.
“The journey just seems to keep continuing for me. I’m 43, I feel like I’ve got plenty years left in the tank.
“My team have kept me very sharp, very healthy, and I’m looking forward to what’s in store not just this week but towards the remainder of my golf career.”
Henson has already penned a chapter in his fairytale week after playing practice rounds with Phil Mickelson last weekend. The six-time major winner took Henson up on the offer after reaching out to congratulate him on qualifying via Twitter.
“It was unbelievable … I can’t thank him enough for doing that and giving me all the nuggets that he’s given me,” Henson said.
“He could not have been more accommodating to me and my team on getting ready for my first major. He wants me to do well, and I want him to do well.”
‘I just know she’s here this week’
Nicknamed “The Hensonator,” a comic alter-ego tag given to him by a college coach, the 43-year-old can expect many of his friends and family – “The Hensonator Nation” – to be cheering from the sidelines at Los Angeles Country Club.
However, one absence will hit hard. Henson’s mother died in March following a battle with dementia. Though his step-dad was alongside her, Henson was in Thailand when he received the news.
“I think she’s gonna pass on a lot of birdies this week,” Henson said.
“I didn’t feel nervous [in New Jersey], I felt emotional and I kept telling myself, ‘No, you can’t go there, you can’t go there’ … I feel like the more I talk about it, the more I can grieve a little bit because I haven’t been able to grieve.
“I just know she’s here this week. I know it, I can feel it, it’s just a special week and I can’t wait to walk up that green on Sunday.”