Brooke Henderson: Ready to Defend her Canadian Open Title?
CP Canadian Women's OpenSteve Kopp
It was one of the great moments in Canadian sports. Brooke Henderson, walking up the fairway to the 18th green in the final round at last year’s CP Canadian Women’s Open in Regina with a three-shot lead. The huge gallery that surrounded the green was standing and applauding. And after Henderson sank her putt for birdie to give her a four-shot victory, the crowd got even louder as she became the first Canadian golfer, male or female, to win a national championship on Canadian soil in 45 years. It was a moment that those who were there will most likely never forget.
Henderson is back this year to defend her title at the Magna Golf Club in Aurora, about 20 minutes north of Toronto. The tournament gets underway on Thursday.
“To have won the CP Women’s Open last year is probably the highlight of my career so far,” said Henderson to a large crowd of media on Tuesday. “Just being with all the great fans from the nation and just having so much attention on me and then still being able to perform as well as I did and execute those shots under pressure was really exciting for me.”
Let’s do a quick recap of who Brooke Henderson is. She is just 21-years old and hails from Smith Falls, Ontario. She has her older sister Brittany as her caddie, has her father as her one and only golf coach, and she uses clubs that are a bit too long for her 5’6” frame, so she chokes down on the grips. She used to be a goalie, she cheers for the Ottawa Senators, and she was a top amateur golfer before she turned pro.
And what about turning pro? She was 17 at the time when she decided to forgo a golfing scholarship to a university in Florida to turn pro. However, the LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) had a hard and fast rule that said a player must be 18 years old before they could join the tour. She did end up playing in a few LPGA tournaments either by qualifying during the Monday qualifying round or by receiving a special invitation. And wouldn’t you know it, she won the 2015 Cambia Portland Classic just a month shy of her 18th birthday after qualifying for the tournament on Monday. Immediately after that win, LPGA commissioner Mike Whan offered her immediate membership on the tour. Henderson has not looked back since.
In 2019, she has won twice in her 19 tour events. That makes it four straight years that Henderson has won two times in a season. Her second victory this season came on Father’s Day, June 16, at the Meijer LPGA Classic in Grand Rapids, Michigan (her first win came in April as she defended her title at the Lotte Championship in Hawaii). That was the 9th victory of her young career, which gave her the title of the winningest Canadian golfer on either the men’s or women’s tour, beating the eight wins by Sandra Post, Mike Weir and George Knudsen.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Henderson when asked about being the winningest Canadian player ever. “Before I got on the LPGA tour, I just wanted to become a member. I wanted to win, and then now just a few years later, I have nine wins which is pretty incredible.”
What may be almost as incredible was the number of messages she received after that record-breaking win in June.
“Every time I win or do something great, I’m really surprised at the people that reach out. Sometimes you’re wondering if people are really paying attention to you, and then you receive tweets from the Prime Minister, Wayne Gretzky, Anne Murray, iconic Canadian people.”
And speaking of iconic people, what did Henderson, a very successful Canadian athlete who is an inspiration to young people - male or female - think of the recent victory by tennis player Bianca Andreescu at the Rogers Cup?
“You know, I don’t play tennis, at least not very well, but it was so inspiring and motivating watching her play, seeing some of her highlights. To watch another Canadian win on Canadian soil is very special. She’s so athletic and so powerful. I feel like not only an inspiration for me but a ton of people across this country. (It) gives me a little bit extra motivation to try and play well this week.”
Henderson made her first appearance in the CP Canadian Women’s open as a 14-year old amateur in 2012. This week she will be making her 9th appearance in Canada’s national championship, but it will be her first time as the defending champion.
“I think to win the CP Women’s Open last year was incredible. Do I think I’m going to do it again this year? I’m going to give it all I have, my best shot. I think it’ll be extremely hard to repeat. But like I said, I’m going to give it my all, and hopefully post a solid round on Thursday and give the fans something to cheer about.”
It has been a pretty good season for Henderson so far in 2019. In her 19 events, she has had eight top 10 finishes and she is currently sixth on the money list with winnings of $1,140,197. She is ranked 5th in the Race to the CME Globe standings. However, her performance in the five majors this year has not been as good as a player of Henderson’s calibre would like. She finished tied for 17th at the ANA Inspiration, tied for 39th at the US Women’s Open, tied for 30th at the KPMG Women’s PGA (a tournament she won in 2016 for the only major title of her career – so far), tied for 17th at the Evian Championship and three weeks ago, she finished tied for 41st at the Women’s British Open. For Henderson, it is not that she played poorly in any of them. It is just that she did not have that one low round that can get a player into the mix for winning the tournament.
“The majors, I played the weekend in all of them, which is what you want to do. I just didn’t have that one key round. I felt like I was close in all of them. If I had that one round at 5-under or better, then I would’ve been right in there on the weekend.
“I think learning from those experiences this year is just to be a little bit more patient. I was trying to push a little too hard when I realized that I wasn’t in the top 10 or 20. I was pushing and I feel like you have to be patient and let things come to you in major championships a little bit.”
Henderson has taken the last two weeks off as she skipped the Scottish Open and the tour had last week off for all players. It is kind of rare for her to take two weeks off, but she feels she got some well-deserved rest and she was able to work on her game last week to get in back in a good position.
“Being back in Ontario, I’ll have a lot more family and friends come out and watch, which I think will be really fun. I’m just really excited to come back here as the defending champion. I am looking forward to hearing that (she is the defending champion) on the first tee in a couple of days.”
This is the first time the CP Canadian Women’s Open has been held at the Magna Golf Club. One of the things that makes this course unique is the size of the greens. They are very large and putting, as usual, will be one of the things that players will need to do well to win here. And for Henderson, putting is the one part of her game that she can, at times, struggle with. She is currently ranked only 66th in average putts per round. Most players, when they struggle on the greens, tend to switch putters almost as often as they change their socks. Henderson, though, has only used two putters this year, making a change in putters only after missing her second cut of the season at the Mediheal LPGA tournament in early May.
“I think ball striking will be pretty key,” said Henderson after being asked about her putting and what the keys to the course will be this week. “Just making sure, because the greens are very large, pick a small target and be precise on that (on your approach shots). I think it would be easy to have some long putts around here and I don’t think you really want that with the slopes and false fronts. So, just being careful and precise and make sure you’re landing over those and giving yourself good looks at birdies.”
The tournament gets underway on Thursday morning with the first players teeing off at 7:15 am. There are a total of 15 Canadians in the tournament, which not only includes Brooke Henderson but also includes 12-year old Michelle Liu, who got an entry in the tournament for being the low Canadian at the recent Canadian Women’s amateur tournament. Oh, and she about to enter grade 8 in September. More about her and a few of the other Canadians in the tournament tomorrow.