Brooke Henderson, 17, cashing in on big-time golf talent

By pocketing north of $150,000 US in the last couple of weeks with impressive finishes on the LPGA tour, 17-year-old Canadian Brooke Henderson is doing her best to show she belongs in the pros.

Canadian pocketed more than $150K in 2 LPGA events

Brooke Henderson isn't old enough for full-time membership status on the LPGA tour, but her results are making the case for her. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

After the whirlwind of the past 10 days, Brooke Henderson spent the better part of Monday morning carefully answering questions at Whistle Bear Golf Club, near Cambridge, Ont., where she'll compete in next month's LPGA Manulife Classic.

For the most part, the 17-year-old from Smiths Falls, Ont., (near Ottawa) sounded well beyond her years, answering questions in a careful and respectful manner. To be frank, Henderson didn't reveal anything that those who've followed her the past few seasons didn't already know. 

But, a few hours later, Henderson did offer some perspective as to how her life is changing.

"What's it like to have made some serious money the past two weeks at your age?" was the question, referencing the almost $153,000 US she pocketed for her third- and 13th-place showings at the past two LPGA events in San Francisco and Dallas, respectively. 

"Oh, it's pretty cool," she said, a smile flashing across her tanned face as she walked to the eighth green after a perfectly struck tee ball left her about 12 feet for birdie. 

"This is a pretty good way to make a living."  

And that's what Henderson is doing now — making a living playing golf — at a time when most Canadian kids her age are just wrapping up high school. Henderson is also carefully handling the label placed on her as Canada's best female prospect since Lorie Kane.

Growing excitement

Her decision to turn pro last fall was a mild surprise, especially coming after the LPGA had turned down her petition to join the circuit as an underage player a few months earlier. Most golf watchers knew back then that Henderson could likely be competitive week-in, week-out on tour, but the LPGA's decision was based on not wanting to set a precedent and getting deluged with requests from young women who can't.

Henderson has let her results do the talking since then. The two high finishes of the past fortnight have come after holding the lead. Before then, Henderson had cobbled together a series of wins and high finishes on tours below the LPGA during the winter and early spring.

The buzz Monday at Whistle Bear was a testament to the growing excitement surrounding her. Ostensibly, the media gathering was made to announce her entry into the tournament on a sponsor's exemption. In reality, her getting one of those passes was a foregone conclusion. 

Right now her immediate goal is to pile up money and world ranking points. If she can win, Henderson will force the LPGA's hand in granting her special membership status despite her age.

"I'm right there, I just [have to] get a little sharper in everything," she said before pinpointing the area in which she most needs to get better. "It's something I've improved on over the past couple years, but if there is something that I have to work diligently on, it would be [putting]."

Dream rivalry

When Canadian golf fans, and especially those who run the country's two LPGA events, dream their dreams, a rivalry between Henderson and world No. 1 Lydia Ko of New Zealand is what they picture. 

Ko, twice the winner of the Canadian Women's Open in 2012 and 2013, along with five other LPGA events, was also announced as being in the Whistle Bear field on Monday. Ko is just six months older than Henderson. 

Two weeks ago at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic in San Francisco, Henderson slept on the final-round lead but was caught by both Ko and Morgan Pressel before finishing alone in third. 

Henderson makes no bones about her admiration for Ko. 

"She's an amazing player but she's also an amazing person.  It's been an honour to watch her play, practise and to play against her, the whole way she does it out there.

"It's pretty cool to watch."

Dizzying stretch

For now, Henderson is guaranteed to play in both the Manulife Classic that tees off June 4 and the CP Canadian Women's Open in August at Vancouver Golf Club. 

Sandwiched between those two Canadian events will be the U.S. Women's Open, a tournament she earned entry into by virtue of tying for 10th last summer. That finish also earned her co-low amateur honours. She is also likely to play in the Women's British Open in late July. 

That will leave three tournaments that she can accept sponsors' invites for, plus any others that she can Monday-qualify for by finishing in the top two at the start of the tournament week. Her next scheduled Monday qualifying is for the Kingsmill Championship next week in Williamsburg, Va. Before then, she plans on caddying for her older sister Brittany on the Symetra Tour, the development loop for the LPGA, at an event this weekend in South Carolina. 

San Francisco, Houston, back home to Canada, and now on to South Carolina and Virginia, with some significant media obligations throughout, all in the space of a few weeks. If it sounds a bit dizzying for a 17-year-old kid, Henderson is quick to dispel any notion she's worn out. 

In fact, she seems to relish the challenge.

"I'm young, I'm full of energy," she said, with a hint of a smile. 

"[There's] definitely been a bit of adrenaline the last few weeks, but I wouldn't change it for the world."

Even if that world, and bank account, has changed dramatically in the past few weeks. 


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