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Good Cause Puts Hensby on a Bike

Kim Cavazzi

October 14, 2009

By Laury Livsey, PGA TOUR Staff

Mark Hensby delivered mail.

During his late teenage years, in his native Melbourne, Hensby snagged a job with Australia Post, and each day he would load the envelopes, packages and parcels into a basket on the front of his bike and drive the Melbourne streets putting mail in the boxes. Daily, it was a two-and-a-half-hour process.

No, it wasn't the best job a fledgling professional golfer could have, but, hey, it paid the bills.

"Christmas time was the worst," Hensby explained, remembering the additional cards and packages that showed up each December. "It was a fair, good run each day. But it was a way to make some money so I could come to America. I always knew I would play golf for a living."

Because Hensby delivered mail, he also knew bikes, or, at least, his bike, the one that was a little tough to pedal. His new Specialized carbon composite beauty has one thing the Hensby bike of 1989 didn't: Gears.

Starting Wednesday, while PGA TOUR players are preparing for the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas, Hensby will be on his bike shifting those gears with nothing but 430 miles of desert, mountains and coastline ahead of him.

The golf pro-cum-cyclist is one of 30 participating in the Ride for Semper Fi in partnership with the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund. All the riders have been gathering donations, with the proceeds going to the five-year-old organization that has provided in excess of 13,500 grants totaling $29 million to injured and wounded Marines. Of the 30 cyclists, Hensby is the only one with a silky putting stroke and the sweet long-iron game.

So how did a professional golfer, who's not even a U.S. citizen and has no relation to the United States Marine Corps, find himself on a bike raising money for wounded veterans?

"My next-door neighbor asked me," said Hensby matter-of-factly about John C. Greenway, chairman of the Ride for Semper Fi. "John did the ride last year, and I got kind of interested. My dad was in the (Australian) Air Force for 22 years, as was my mom. My dad had served in Vietnam, and I had always been interested in the military. Because I wasn't getting in any tournaments, I told John I'd do it this year, and here I am.

"But, seriously, mate, the other reason I'm doing this ride is that I've had a lot of opportunity in this country," Hensby continued, speaking about his adopted home. "Without the opportunity that I've had over here, I wouldn't be where I am. To do something for these men and women, these injured Marines, well, it doesn't take much of a sacrifice to give back to these guys and allowing me to do something I really believe in."

The ride began at 11 a.m. ET in Scottsdale, Ariz., not far from his Mesa home, with a few dots on the map the daily destinations during the next three-plus days. Tonight it's Quartzsite, Ariz., the first stop. Thursday the group will head to the California town of Brawley, part of the Calipatria and Westmoreland metroplex. Following an overnight stay there, the destination is the blink-or-you'll-miss-it Julian, Calif., on the north edge of the Cleveland National Forest. By noon Saturday, the 30 riders will pull into a place you may have heard of -- San Diego -- home to Balboa Park, where the Naval Medical Center San Diego, near Camp Pendleton, is located.

Hensby is no stranger to long journeys, at least in a figurative sense. It's been more than three years since a car plowed into his Mercedes SL in Arizona, sending the vehicle into a power pole and Hensby and his son, Chase, to the hospital. Hensby's career changed dramatically after the crash. He was coming off seasons where he won $2.7 million in 2004 and $1.3 million in 2005 and played on the International Team in The Presidents Cup.

"The car was just a mess. If you had seen it, you would have thought someone was dead," Hensby said.

The whiplash and the bumps and bruises are long gone. But a nagging foot injury has kept him from returning to his form of four years ago. It's been an odyssey that saw Hensby go from 27th in the Official World Golf Ranking in late 2005 to No. 640 today. While his foot has felt better, he's only been able to play a limited schedule due to a rotator cuff injury unrelated to the car accident. So with quite a bit of available time, Hensby decided to put his feet -- both of them functioning at 100 percent -- to work, all for a worthy purpose. In preparation for the ride of his life, Hensby has predaled 250 miles last week, going 78 and 76 miles on back-to-back days.

"No doubt," he said when asked if this is the best shape he's ever been in. "This bicycling, as tough as it is, has gotten me in good shape, and I feel pretty good. It's a pity I haven't been able to play [tournament golf]. It's as good as I've felt since 2004."

In the five PGA TOUR tournaments he entered this year, Hensby has made two cuts -- at the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee (tied for 46th) and the Buick Open (tied for 37th). Hensby has already entered the TOUR's National Qualifying Tournament with the hopes of regaining full PGA TOUR playing privileges. "If that doesn't work out, I will try to get my card through the Nationwide Tour," he added.

Depending on how Hensby feels following his 430-mile adventure, he's even considering Monday qualifying at next week's Open in Scottsdale.

"I'll have to wait and see," he said. "The first two days [of the ride] are pretty flat. The third day, it's brutal because we're going up through the mountains. We do 50 or 60 miles then we have 15 miles uphill with a six-percent grade."

Of course it will be difficult. Hensby knows that. But then he thinks about why he's riding in the first place.

Hensby's PGA TOUR pals Ben Crane and Ted Purdy have already donated to the cause, understanding the role they can play by helping out when fellow TOUR players are involved in worthy charitable pursuits.

"One of the greatest things we can do as professional golfers on TOUR is to give back. Obviously, we're in one of the greatest situations an athlete can be in. Playing on this TOUR at this time is pretty special," Crane said. "It's really cool what Mark is doing. He's stepping in to ride his bike a heck of a long way to help raise awareness and support. I'm just happy to be involved in a small portion of that."

When the cyclists pull into Balboa Park this Saturday, Marines will be there to greet them, and those 30 riders who navigated the 430 miles will gladly hand over all the donations they've accumulated.

And Hensby will be one of the 30, on his bike, making yet another delivery.

READ MORE ABOUT: Mark Hensby , Military
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