Brooke Henderson has Olympic podium in sight
Canadian golf sensation major contender for Rio
By Tim Wharnsby, CBC Sports
Her ascension was so swift.
One day she is walking the fairways for the first time with the LPGA Tour's best at the Women's Canadian Open in Vancouver as a fresh-faced 14-year-old, and less than four years later she is a major champion, beating world No. 1 Lydia Ko in a playoff at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship.
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With her remarkable victory at age 18 at the Sahalee Country Club in early June, Henderson scratched a 48-year itch for Canada. Sandra Post was the last Canadian female to win a golf major when she claimed the 1968 Women's PGA Championship.
Now Henderson would like to scratch another itch. The last time golf was an Olympic sport was in 1904 in St. Louis and the winner just happened to be a Canadian. For 112 years, the late George S. Lyon has been the defending champion.
There was no women's competition back then. Henderson is a favourite and has a legitimate shot at carrying on what Lyon started all those years ago by winning gold, especially considering she won twice in June and has 11 top-10 finishes in 20 events in 2016.
"The Olympics have always been a huge dream of mine and when I was little I had no idea how I was going to get there or what sport," Henderson said. "I'm just fortunate enough that golf came into the Olympics and now I have an opportunity, an unbelievable opportunity to represent my country.
"And as Clara Hughes did, compete for my country, and represent it there in Rio."
Athlete above all else
Henderson is an athlete, first and foremost. She was a pretty good goaltender, just like her dad, Dave, who played Junior B for the Oshawa Legionnaires under head coach Mike Keenan and later at the University of Toronto.
The 5-foot-4 Henderson packs plenty of power into her swing. She uses a 48-inch driver, four inches longer than the standard length, and despite her size, is one of the longest drivers on the LPGA Tour (13th, 267.74 yards).
Her swing is more athletic than the effortless ones you see from players like Ko. Henderson describes her natural move as more like a slap shot, which makes sense considering her hockey background.
"I'm very aggressive, I would say," said Henderson, when asked to describe her game. "My long game is definitely my strength, so you know hitting it long and getting around the greens is definitely my strength.
"Around the greens — putting, chipping — that's where I've sort of focused my attention over the last couple of years to improve because the best in the world are so good around that area so I think that's something that I'll have to work on."
Her improved short game was on full display when she came from behind to force a playoff with Ko at the Women's PGA. Henderson made a long-eagle putt at the 11th and canned a pressure-packed 12-foot par putt at the 72nd hole to force the playoff.
"It was an amazing day, for sure," Henderson said.
Sisters through and through
Henderson likes the word amazing. She uses it often. And why shouldn't she? Her story has been an amazing ride, one built through family. Henderson began playing golf at age three, tagging along with her father and older sister, Brittany, on their tours around the Smiths Falls Golf and Country Club.
Brittany now caddies for her sister and was on the bag when Brooke won her second and third LPGA Tour tournaments in June — the Women's PGA and the successfully defence of her title in Portland, Ore. The Hendersons will be together in Rio, including her caddy/sister.
"It's really awesome to have somebody that I can depend so much on," said Brooke, who is six years younger than Brittany. Brooke also caddied for Brittany when the latter turned pro.
"She's my best friend, she's my sister, and we've trained and practised together since we were little," Brooke added. "We have very similar golf games, but also different. She's a little more conservative, where I would never be classified as a conservative player.
"It's a good mix and it's cool because I respect her opinion and I know the background where it's coming from. I think that's really important in a relationship between a caddy and a player."
There will be four golf competitions in Rio: individual men's and women's, along with team men's and women's. Henderson will team up with Alena Sharp, a 35-year-old golfer from Brantford, Ont., who has been inspired by her teenager teammate this year.
Henderson, a native of Smiths Falls, Ont., is ranked No. 2, behind Ko. When Henderson made her debut at the 2012 Women's Canadian Open, Ko won the event in Vancouver at age 15. Henderson learned a lot from observing Ko.
Ko will be the one to beat in Rio, but Henderson definitely has been inspired by the Olympic spirit.
"I remember watching every two years, Winter and Summer Games," Henderson said. "I just loved the passion and the determination and focus of all of these athletes and how hard they worked to be there and how hard they were working in whatever sport they were in. It was extremely inspirational and motivational and I just wanted to be like them."