Life Changes for Aussie Hensby

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Mark Hensby stood on the wet grass outside the Augusta National clubhouse, looking out at a parking lot filled with luxury cars. Just off the lead in the Masters, his thoughts were drawn back to how he ended up in such a place.
 
Hensby knows a lot about parking lots. For weeks, he used to live in one.
 
Mark Hensby
Mark Hensby and son Chase compete in the Masters Par-3 Contest.
Before this week, Hensby knew nothing about playing in the Masters.
 
'You always hoped,' he said. 'But to play here is a dream come true, no doubt.'
 
So far in the rain-plagued Masters, Hensby has surpassed even his wildest dreams. He birdied his last two holes Thursday for a 69 and the clubhouse lead, then came back with a string of seven straight pars in difficult conditions Friday before storms delayed play once again.
 
There's still plenty of golf left, but one day Hensby can at least claim that he went into the weekend at Augusta National only two shots off the lead.
 
That's better than his two previous claims to fame, which included sleeping on the rooftop of a golf club in Australia and living in his car in the parking lot of a Chicago course for six weeks.
 
Both took place while he pursued his goal of someday playing on the PGA Tour.
 
'If you want something you really want to do you'll go to extremes to do it,' Hensby said.
 
He's certainly done that. He came to the United States 11 years ago with little money in his pocket and only the generosity of some friends in Chicago to count on.
 
When the friends moved away, Hensby was left without a place to stay. He had a car, though, and began sleeping in it next to the driving range of the Cog Hill Golf and Country Club in the Chicago suburb of Lemont.
 
When the nights got cold, Hensby would turn the car on every hour or two and drive around the lot until it warmed up before returning to his spot at the rear of the range.
 
'You begin thinking, is it worth it?' Hensby said. 'But I enjoyed the United States and being over here. I would do anything I could to stay here.'
 
Hensby, who won the Illinois Amateur while in Chicago, eventually went back to his home in the rural Australian town of Tamworth. He returned, though, and finally qualified for the Nationwide Tour in 1997.
 
Hensby made it onto the PGA Tour in 2001, but made only seven cuts in 29 tournaments and went back to the minor league tour. He got his second shot last year and came through big, winning the John Deere Classic in a playoff and finishing 15th on the money list with earnings of $2.7 million.
 
That got him his first invitation to Augusta National, a place he first came to in 1994 as a guest of his Illinois friends.
 
'This was the first tournament I ever saw in America. I had only been here a week,' he said.
 
Hensby and his friends played golf in the morning that year and came to watch the tournament in the afternoon.
 
'I couldn't believe it. I'd never seen a golf course like this,' he said. 'The grass was so green and the greens so pure it was incredible.'
 
At the time, Hensby had about enough money to buy a souvenir hat. Now, he drives a Mercedes and has little to worry about financially.
 
Still, he is a throwback to another era, the son of working class parents now making his living in a country club world.
 
His mother worked in a restaurant, and so did Hensby, washing dishes. He had other jobs, including a stint with the Australian Post delivering mail.
 
'I got chased by a lot of dogs,' he said.
 
His experiences have given him a different outlook on golf and life - one that many of his more pampered counterparts don't have.
 
'I see guys out here who never worked a day in their lives and they're beating people,' Hensby said. 'It's not right, but they don't know any other way. For me, I see both sides.'
 
As for himself, Hensby said: 'My life's a lot easier than it was 10 years ago, but you don't change.'
 
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