Brooke Henderson’s job these days, it appears, is to walk the fairways of the world and make us all green with envy.
Don’t we all wish we could have burst on to the scene of our chosen profession at age 17 with such poise, such talent, such maturity and success, and perform with an omnipresent smile to boot?
Isn’t that what we wish for our daughters, our sons, our nieces and nephews, our neighbour’s children?
For them to glide into a career with such ease like Henderson since she and her family made the bold decision last December to skip a golf scholarship from the University of Florida and try to make her way on the LPGA Tour.
The way she and her family figured it was who knows what can happen four years down the road. Maybe her powerful golf swing would no longer be as dependable. And the LPGA has become a haven for teenage sensations, why not her?
First there was Michelle Wie, then Lexi Thompson and Charley Hull, and it didn’t take Lydia Ko long to rise to No. 1 in the world. The prolific shot maker from New Zealand reached the top step in women’s golf before her 18th birthday.
The Hendersons knew the risks involved with their decision. Thompson and Ko received special exemptions for their LPGA Tour cards as 17 year olds (the LPGA’s age of a majority is 18) because they both already had celebrated LPGA victories.
Henderson was turned down by commissioner Michael Whan for a special exemption to get into the LPGA Tour school last year. Henderson understood Whan’s decision.
So instead, the whiz kid from Smiths Falls, Ont., has found a way to make the most of her limited LPGA starts, earning $317,470 US in seven events this season.
She will tee it up in the U.S. Women’s Open at the Lancaster Country Club, 90 minutes west of Philadelphia, even though she suffered a bruised left leg when a truck hit her sister’s car while Henderson was driving it last week.
Henderson was taken to the hospital after the accident and was released that evening. But she did withdraw from the 54-hole event on the Symetra Tour she was scheduled to play in last weekend.
“I feel blessed,” Henderson said earlier this week, adding her sister’s car was a write off. “I’m still a little sore. But I also feel I’m ready to go.”
Pan Am withdrawal
The car accident was just one of the few setbacks Henderson has endured since she turned pro. There was the missed cut at the Manulife Classic in Cambridge, Ont., in early June at about the same time she was named to the Pan Am women’s golf team.
Two weeks ago, she withdrew from the Pan Ams because she will instead try and Monday qualify — a stroke play tournament — for the LPGA event next week in Sylvania, Ohio.
The reaction was mixed. Some understood that Henderson’s main goal is for her to obtain her LPGA Tour status. Some criticized her decision not to represent Canada next week in Toronto.
“I’ve seen both sides,” Henderson confessed to CBCSports.ca. “I’ve had support and understanding that I need to keep trying to get my status on the LPGA Tour.
“I love to wear the Maple Leaf. I still wear [the Golf Canada logo] on my sleeve. I would love to represent Canada in Rio [at the 2016 Olympic Games]. I think those who know me and my situation understand I need to keep playing to keep my [LPGA] status.”
There are a few ways Henderson could avoid tour school in the fall and gain her LPGA membership this as a 17 year old this summer:
Henderson can only play in six LPGA events on sponsor’s exemptions.
After the U.S. Women’s Open, she is scheduled to play in the British Women’s Open in three weeks and the CP Canadian Women’s Open in Vancouver next month.
More than 1 way to qualify
Monday qualifying is another way for Henderson to gain entry into LPGA events. In fact, after she finished third in San Francisco, she went to Dallas and successfully Monday qualified.
She then finished in a tie for 13th. Her other notable showing was a tie for fifth at the LPGA Championship last month, a major on the LPGA Tour.
“It’s been so much fun,” Henderson said. “I’ve received a ton of support from a lot of people, including the other pros.
“I have grown a ton as a golfer and as a person. This experience has allowed me to travel, meet a lot of people. I feel much older and more mature than an average 17 year old.”
That was evident last month when her and her sister returned home for a charity event at their local club.
They raised awareness and money for Lanark County Support Services, where their social worker/mother Darlene has worked for more than three decades, and Brooke’s close friend Neil Doef, who suffered a spinal cord injury in a junior hockey game last November.
It’s been a whirlwind existence for Henderson with not much time to reflect. But she remarked that almost every round has taught her a lesson.
“I still have a lot to learn,” said Henderson, who finished in a tie for 10th at the U.S. Women’s Open last summer. “But I also feel I’m close. I’m right there. A couple shots here or there could have been the difference for me.
“I just need to fine tune. The big thing for me is to stay patient.”
Raised in a sporting family
Henderson was raised in a sporting family. Her father Dave, now a retired teacher, was a goalie for the University of Toronto hockey team in the early 1980s. He’s also one of the best golfers at the Smiths Falls Country Club, where the family plays.
Her 23-year-old sister Brittany plays on the Symetra Tour. When their schedule permits, you will often see Brooke caddying for Brittany or Brittany caddying for Brooke. Dave also took a turn caddying at the LPGA Championship last month.
Like her father, Brooke Henderson also was a hockey goalie. But once she made the Canadian national golf team at age 14 she gave up hockey for good.
“I grew up wanting to be like my sister,” said Henderson. “She was a golfer and although I skipped a step and didn’t play college golf like she did I’ve always wanted to do what she did.”
A month before she turned 11, Henderson was invited to take part in a clinic given from Morgan Pressel at Royal Ottawa in August 2008. A few days later, Henderson followed her new idol around Ottawa Hunt in the Canadian Women’s Open.
Henderson was surprised when Pressel looked up and said, “Hi Brooke, how are you?”
“She’s so nice and humble. That’s why I like her,” said Henderson, who later played alongside Pressel in a tournament when the Canadian made her first LPGA cut.
As a 14 year old, Henderson began attracting national attention. She won the Canadian and Ontario junior titles and became the youngest female to win a pro event when she captured a tournament in Quebec on the CN Canadian Tour. She also competed in her first LPGA event, the Canadian Women’s Open, in 2012.
Before she turned pro, Henderson was the top-ranked woman amateur in the world. She’s already climbed to the 45th ranked pro golfer in six-plus months.
It was in the fall of 2011 that Canadian national team coach Tristan Mullally first met the rising star and got a glance at her swing at a training camp in Florida.
“She was happy-go lucky, but so in tune with her swing, so focused,” Mullally said.
In Henderson, Mullally sees a creative young player who succeeds because she can adapt her game to any kind of golf course.
“For the women’s game, she has tremendous speed in her swing,” he said. “She hits it further, but at the same time she’s creative and can move the ball in both directions. Because she doesn’t need a particular course to be successful, she gives herself an opportunity every time out, especially when the course is long and difficult.”
Mullally and others have been impressed that Henderson has been able to achieve such a high standard this year despite her nomadic existence due to a lack of a regular schedule. He believes that Henderson will benefit from a set schedule down the road.
“Her schedule has been all over the place, forcing her to scramble a bit,” Mullally said. “Going forward, once life is made easier for her with a set schedule she’ll be able to sharpen her game and formulate a plan. It will be exciting to see how much better she can be.”
Just another reason she’ll make Canada proud and golfers around the world green with envy.