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Fairfield’s Henry getting some R & R before Travelers

June 21, 2017 GMT

FAIRFIELD — The relaxed voice on the other end of the phone sounded very much like a person who was enjoying some rare downtime. And that’s just what J.J. Henry was doing. Stretched out in a recliner overlooking the beach by his parents’ house, Henry was taking advantage of a few hours of doing absolutely nothing — before tossing the clubs in the trunk of the car and heading over to the Patterson Club to get in a little practice.

On Wednesday, with ESPN’s Chris Berman, comedian Kevin Nealon and former Boston Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield by his side, Henry will tee it up in the Travelers Championship Pro-Am before turning his focus toward trying to win his fourth PGA Tour event.

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“I’m still hungry to play and the competitive fire is still there,” Henry said Tuesday. “But I’ve got a long stretch of golf in front of me, so I’m not going to grind and beat balls all day, to be honest. I’m going to watch TCU (his alma mater) at the College World Series, relax here at the beach and maybe practice for a while. That’s kind of the mentality I’m taking this week.”

The Travelers Championship is the first event of a month-long run for the 42-year-old Fairfield native.

Henry — currently 132nd on the money list with $460,669 — will play in the Quicken Loans National, the Greenbrier Classic, the John Deere Classic and the Barbasol Championship, before taking the week of the British Open off, unless he happens to win one of these upcoming events and qualify for the Open at Royal Birkdale.

“I always seem to play my best in the summer months,” Henry said. “I’ve got a pretty heavy stretch coming up, so I’m hoping to kind of get off to a good start and it would be nice to start it at a place where I’ve had a lot of success before. I know the golf course better than anybody.”

The Tournament Players Club River Highlands is a place Henry knows very well, including winning what was then the Buick Championship in 2006. He first played there as an amateur (with his father, Ron, on the bag) in 1998. He played again in 1999, skipped 2000 and since then hasn’t missed an event. This will be his 19th tournament in Cromwell.

“I know I’ve done well here before but you never know when it’s going to be your week,” he said. “You feel good and you know that you’ve done it before but you never know, and that’s kind of what we live for.”

So far, Henry has put together a pretty solid season. Thanks to a 63 in the final round, there was a T8 at the Puerto Rico Open; a T17 at the Genesis Open; a T22 at the Valero Texas Open; a T24 at the Zurich Classic (thanks to a final-round 66); and a T27 at the Bryon Nelson, where he spent the weekend playing alongside newly crowned U.S. Open champ Brooks Koepka.

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“Brooks Koepka won the U.S. Open, but does he hit it any longer than me? No. I know I can compete with him. I feel like I’m one of the best ball-strikers out there and when the putter’s hot, well, that’s when you climb the leaderboard,” Henry said. “Physically, I still hit the ball plenty far but at the end of the day you still have to get the ball in the hole.”

And that’s been part of what’s been keeping Henry from cracking the winner’s circle again.

“The putter … it still gets hot and cold,” he said. “When it’s hot, it’s pretty good and when it’s cold, it’s hasn’t been great and that can kind of bring you down a little bit. Even when you’re not hitting the ball well, putting can be the great equalizer. I’ve got a pretty good short game, my chipping has been good, but the last couple of weeks my putter’s let me down more so than anything, so I’ve been focusing on that.”

Other than that, the overall game — he’s still averaging 290-plus yards off the tee, he’s 26th in hitting greens in regulation (68.46 percent) and he’s put together 21 rounds in the 60s — is as solid as ever.

“I can’t complain too much,” he said. “You’re competitive and you always want to do better, but I’ve been fairly consistent this year. I haven’t had really any chances where I held the lead with nine or 18 holes to play, but I feel like I’ve been playing fairly consistent. I’ve had some low rounds, it’s just a question, that same old song and dance, of putting four of them together, and that’s what you have to do to win.”

And while in the past, Henry has focused on the Travelers as his “fifth major,” of late he’s been looking at the tournament in a different, more relaxed light.

“I’m trying to low-key it a little bit,” he said. “As I’ve gotten older and I look back to when I won in ’06 and I feel like I’m a better player now than I was … what did I do different? And I remember being very relaxed. I wasn’t real high or real low and over the weekend I made a ton of putts. I was confident, and sometimes it just happens when you least expect it.”

celsberry@ctpost.com

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