Brooke Henderson – The Face of Canadian Golf
It was the 72nd hole of a major championship and Brooke Henderson was facing a 10-foot birdie putt. Make it and you win your second major on the LPGA tour. Miss it and you are in a playoff. How many times did she pretend to be in this scenario growing up playing golf in Smith Falls, Ontario?
“I think every player out here growing up and even now, when we practice, we think about possible scenarios,” said Henderson after her practice round in preparation for the 2022 CP Canadian Women’s Open. “Whether it’s to save par on the first hole or to make the putt to win a big championship. So I definitely have done that a lot and that opportunity to be on the 72nd hole and know that if I make this putt I can win, that’s a great feeling.”
The putt we are talking about was on he 72nd hole at the Amundi Evian Championship on July 24 in Evian-les-Bains, France, the 4th of 5 majors on the LPGA tour. Henderson had a 4-shot lead heading into the final round, but had let it slip away. It came down to the 72nd and final hole. Tied with rookie Sophia Schubert, Henderson was faced with a 10-foot slightly downhill putt to win. And make it she did.
“Brit (her sister and caddie Brittany) and I had the exact same read on the putt, which can ease a lot of the nerves and give you some confidence,” said Henderson when asked what was going through her mind as she stood over the putt. “I was just trying to make sure I got it to the hole and give it a chance to go in. Then to see it drop, it was amazing.”
The win at the Evian Championship was the second major of her career on the LPGA tour (the other was the KPMG Women’s PGA in 2016). The win also extended her record of the most wins by a Canadian professional golfer, male or female, to 12.
This season has been a good one for Henderson, who is in her 6th full season on the LPGA tour. The 24 year old native of Smith Falls, Ontario has won twice this year, having won the ShopRite LPGA Classic in June. She also has six top 10 finishes, has won over $2.2 million (3rd on the money list) and is currently ranked 5th in the Rolex World Ranking of female golfers. Her game is pretty good right now as she heads into the only stop on the LPGA tour in Canada.
“The last few months have been a lot of fun. I feel like my game has been in a really good spot and I have been able to win twice, which is awesome. I feel like hopefully I can just kind of keep that momentum and the confidence level at a high for a while.”
Next up for Henderson is the CP Canadian Women’s Open, which this year is being held at her home golf course, the Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club. This is the first time the tournament has been held in three years. It was last held at the Magna Golf Club in Aurora, Ontario in 2019. In that tournament, Henderson was in the final threesome on Sunday. She ultimately finished tied for 3rd, 7 shots behind Jin Young Ko, who heads into this year’s tournament as the defending champion and world’s number one ranked female golfer.
“I’m so looking forward to this week,” said Henderson. “Every year it’s circled on my calendar and I always get super pumped up for it, especially as the weeks grow closer to it. Having the last one in 2019, it’s just been so long since I was able to play in front of the hometown crowd. Even in the practice rounds yesterday and today there has been so many people out watching. It’s just amazing to have this much love and support from home.”
Henderson has always had success in the Canadian Women’s Open. After missing the cut as an amateur in her first two opens (2012, 2013), she was the low amateur in 2014 when the tournament was held at the London Hunt Club. She has never finished lower than 23rd and in 2018 she became just the second Canadian to win the tournament when she won by four shots at the Wascana Golf Club in Regina.
The last time the tournament was held in Ottawa at the Hunt and Golf Club (2017), Henderson was the star attraction. She struggled in the first two rounds and needed a birdie putt on the 18th hole on Friday just to make the cut. Then she went out and thrilled the massive hometown crowd by shooting a course record 63 on Saturday to move into contention. She would ultimately finish tied for 12th, but the 63 is still the competitive course record. She is the face of the tournament and by far and away the fan favourite. That week in 2017 has helped her get ready for the demands on her time this week.
“It’s definitely a balance and I mentioned 2017 was a really big learning experience when the tournament was held here in Ottawa,” explained Henderson when I asked her how she handles all of the extra attention from people, sponsors and the media this week. “Just finding the correct amount of time to have practice and also rest, and then also give to media and to fans and to CP (Canadian Pacific) who I am a proud ambassador for. It’s a bit of a balance, and making sure that you’re ready to go come Thursday. Hopefully I’ll just be able to play well on Thursday and be in contention on the weekend.”
There are a few things to watch out for regarding Brooke Henderson this week. First up is Brooke’s Brigade. That is what her fans, young and old (but especially young), call themselves. And let’s not forget that her hometown of Smith Falls is only a 50-minute drive from the course. There will be lots of family and friends in the gallery this week, including her grade five teacher.
“Yeah, the Brooke’s Brigade is awesome. I love seeing all the young kids out there. They seem to be really enjoying themselves, which is great. Then also being so close to home, I get to see a lot of family and friends and my grade five teacher. She was one of my favourite teachers, so it is really cool to see her out there today.”
Second is the fact that the par-3 17th hole has been set up like a hockey rink, much like the 16th hole was set up at the recent RBC Canadian Men’s Open golf tournament. It could be a wild and electric atmosphere there all week. Henderson is all set to put on a hockey jersey after she tees off on the 17th hole.
“I got my Sens (Ottawa Senators) jersey out. I’m ready,” said Henderson when asked if she has any plans to put on a sweater of some kind. “I think it’s really cool. It’s fun. I played a practice hole this morning and they were banging on the boards. It’s going to be pretty loud, but it reminds me of the good old days when I used to play hockey.”
Henderson used to play hockey before she took up the game of golf. She was a goalie.
“I skated in 2021 on a frozen lake in the winter,” said Henderson when asked what was the last time she skated. “But I haven’t played hockey since I stopped playing back when I was 14. It’s been a long time.”
Third, earlier this season the LPGA tour brought in new rules regarding the maximum length of a player’s golf clubs. Henderson had been using a 48 inch driver as far back as she can remember. It essentially is a men’s driver, which she chokes up on. But the new rules say that a driver can not be any longer than 46 inches. It has been a bit of an adjustment for Henderson.
“Yeah, I’m not a huge fan of that rule change, that’s for sure,” said Henderson when I asked her how much of an adjustment it has been for her. “I’ve been able to find a driver that’s 46 inches that I like a lot. You know, especially the last few months it’s worked really well for me. Hopefully that rule will change again and I’ll get back to my old driver.”
Finally, for those who do not know, Henderson’s success on the golf course is really a family affair. The only coach she has ever had is her father, David. On her golf bag, there every step of the way, is her caddie and sister Brittany.
“I love having her on the bag and just being able to travel around the world together, it’s been a super fun journey. She’s my best friend and works really hard for me, on and off the course. So just to have all these unique experiences, it’s been fun, and hopefully she stays on my bag for a long time.”
The organizers of the tournament are expecting big crowds on Thursday to Sunday. And while 41 of the top 50 players are here, including 7 past winners of the tournament and all 5 winners of the majors this year, and while there will be 17 other Canadians teeing it up on Thursday, it is Brooke Henderson who will be the main draw all week. She is set to tee it up on Thursday at 1:04 pm, starting on the 10th tee. She is in a threesome with Jennifer Kupcho (who has won three times this year) and two-time Canadian Women’s champion Lydia Ko.
Will Henderson be standing over a birdie putt on the 72nd hole on Sunday to win the tournament? Time will tell.