Can Brooke Henderson seize the moment?
Canadian golf star eyes storybook victory at CP Women's Open in Ottawa
The scenes playing out in Ottawa this week are a marketer's dream.
Brooke Henderson, the local star who grew up in nearby Smiths Falls, has been treated like sporting royalty at Ottawa Hunt & Golf Club ahead of the CP Women's Open, which tees off on Thursday.
And why not? The soon-to-turn 20-year-old ticks all the boxes you would expect for a local star.
Talented? Check — she's won four times on the LPGA Tour, including a major, and the most recent victory came in June.
Soon after, she nearly forced a playoff at the Women's PGA Championship, the major she won a year earlier, before finishing alone in second.
Henderson has won more than $1 million this season and is fifth on the LPGA money list.
Bright and personable? Well, the kid has had golf fans and media eating out of her hand since she was 14 years old.
The fact the tournament is taking place in the nation's capital as Ottawa celebrates Canada's 150th birthday is a bonus.
It's all a nice counterweight for the LPGA after conducting the Solheim Cup last week, where the Americans thrilled the home crowd by winning in dominating fashion. The dramatic scenes from Iowa would be repeated if Henderson can add to her LPGA victory total on Sunday.
Canadians to watch
Henderson, of course, is not the only Canadian in action this week. Alena Sharp, the 36-year-old veteran from Hamilton, needs to cash a cheque for $14,000 to cross the $2-million mark in career earnings and is coming off a decent performance (T13) last month at the Corning Classic.
Maude-Aimee Leblanc of Sherbrooke, Que., is also back in action after a two-month absence. The 28-year-old has struggled recently but was T7 at an LPGA event in Australia earlier this season. Brittany Marchand of Orangeville, Ont., and Augusta James of nearby Bath, Ont., are two young Canadians to watch.
World No. 1 So Yeon Ryu of South Korea headlines the field, along with defending champion Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand and New Zealander Lydia Ko, who has won the tournament three times.
But there is little doubt that this is Henderson's stage, and this week has been a couple years in the making.
Last year, ScoreGolf editor Jason Logan wrote an excellent feature illustrating how Henderson's qualities could captivate a Canadian audience. With her 2016 win at the Women's PGA and after successfully defending her title in Portland, much of what Logan carved out in that piece is proving true.
Last week, the Globe and Mail's Rachel Brady wrote an interesting story breaking down the endorsement appeal of Henderson. The piece illustrates her profile among Canadian sports figures, but also her growing global appeal juxtaposed against her small-town charm.
But there are cautionary tales too. For whatever reason, young female golfers seem to hit pitfalls at a greater frequency than most other athletes. Former teenage sensations Michelle Wie, Morgan Pressel and Paula Creamer are now merely good golfers, rather than the great ones they were projected to be while still in their teens.
There are also concerns Henderson is playing too much. Last year, she had a dip in form not long after her major triumph that led to disappointing showings at the Olympics in Rio and at last year's national open in Calgary.
That came at a time when Henderson was teeing it up at a rate that was close to the highest on the LPGA circuit. This year, she has played the second-most rounds of any player and, like 2016, there have been stretches where Henderson's name has been conspicuously absent from leaderboards.
How much is too much? It's tough to say, and Henderson herself has said that at her youthful age she should be immune to the rigours of tour life.
There has also been some low-level disquiet among the Canadian golf community at how she has consolidated her team around her. She is now coached solely by her father, Dave, a retired school teacher. Golf Canada's Tristan Mullally, who served as her coach while Henderson was still an amateur and early in her pro career, is no longer involved with her.
Fair enough. Golf is the ultimate individual sport and there is no place to hide like there can be in team competition. Player's need to operate in such a way that makes them most comfortable, and with four wins before her 20th birthday, it's difficult to argue with the decisions Henderson and her family have made.
Another breathtaking performance this weekend will only add to the lore for a golfer who doesn't turn 20 until next month.