378 days. That’s how long it’s been since Mark Hensby last teed up in a professional tournament.
The 48-year-old is 13 days removed from the end of a one-year worldwide ban for failing to take a drug test and says he is excited to return to the arena at the AVJennings NSW Open at Twin Creeks Golf and Country Club in greater western Sydney.
Hensby made worldwide headlines in December last year when it was revealed he had been handed the suspension.
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He fell foul of the rules when he failed to provide a urine sample following the opening round of the PGA Tour’s Sanderson Farms Championship on October 26.
Irritated after shooting 78 and having gone to the toilet not long before the end of the round, Hensby decided not to stay on site until he could provide the sample thinking he could do so the next morning.
He was wrong, and for the last 12 months, he has had little else to do but think about how events unfolded that day and the consequences of those actions.
“For quite a long time I felt like I wouldn’t ever play again,” he said following his pro-am round at Twin Creeks.
“Then I was back in Australia visiting family in the middle of the year, and I went for a hit and really enjoyed it.
“That’s when I started thinking maybe I might give it another go. And the last four months I’ve really put the work in to try to get back.”
With little status in the US and consequently few playing opportunities, Hensby said he was ecstatic to be offered the chance to play the NSW Open.
“You can practice golf, but you can’t practice tournament play,” he said. “There is nothing that can recreate playing a tournament, so every opportunity I get is critical.
“The chance to play here this week, then try to qualify for the Australian Open next week, is the first step on the road back and I’m just glad it’s finally arrived.”
A strong-minded character who has always spoken his mind, Hensby knows the events that unfolded in Mississippi last year will always follow him. It’s not much fun, but he accepts it, though draws the line at his son being harassed at school because of it.
“It doesn’t really worry me, I’m a big boy,” he says. “But it’s had a negative impact on people around me and that’s hard to deal with.
“I know it will always be there and it’s a shame because I didn’t actually do anything wrong. I didn’t take any drugs. I just didn’t take the test.
“A lot of people don’t bother getting the full story which is a shame, but that’s the way it is I suppose.”
Hensby reached a career high of 27th in the world in 2005 when he finished 5th at the Masters, third at the US Open and was a member of the Presidents Cup International team.
But a car accident in January of the following year derailed what was shaping as a promising career and he has never managed to get back to those heights.
That, however, doesn’t mean he’s done yet. Hensby says he still has some goals to achieve in the game and one is to get back to the PGA Tour for a season.
With access to the secondary Web.com Tour likely in 2019 as he prepares for the Champions Tour, he says he wants to qualify for the Web.com Finals and play his way back to the big stage.
“A lot of people think I’m mad and that I’ve got no hope of doing it,” he says. “And I’m ok with that.
“It might not be likely, but it’s also not impossible. And the guaranteed way for it not to happen is for me to believe it can’t.”
He has the same attitude this week at Twin Creeks. He knows a year away from the game won’t help his cause and if he plays all four rounds that would be a success.
But he’s not ruling himself out, either.
“I’ve been there and done it before, so if it all came together this week I’d back myself to handle it,” he says.