COQUITLAM, B.C. – Brooke Henderson believes the time she spent between the pipes growing up can give her a big assist this week as she tries to become the first Canadian in over 40 years to win Canada’s national women’s golf championship.
Before she turned to golf Henderson was a hockey goaltender. The 17-year-old from Smiths Falls, Ont., will take some of the mental toughness she learned on the ice into this week’s US$2.25-million Canadian Pacific Women’s Open.
“To be a goalie you have to be a little bit strange, a little bit odd,” said Henderson, prompting laughs during a news conference. “I think that has really helped me along the way mentally preparing for not only professional golf, but golf in general.
“A shooter coming down on you, and you have a one-goal lead, it’s a lot of pressure. The whole team is counting on you. It’s the same when you have a three-foot birdie putt to win a championship or make the cut. It’s the same kind of pressure.”
Henderson was thrust into the spotlight this week after winning her first LPGA event with an eight-stroke victory Sunday at the US$1.3-million Cambia Portland Classic. That made her the first Canadian to win an LPGA event since Lorie Kane of Charlottetown in 2001. She also is the Tour’s third-youngest champion ever at 17 years 11 months six days.
The win prompted the LPGA to grant Henderson full membership on Tuesday, meaning she won’t have to play Monday qualifying tournaments for the rest of the season. She faced having to qualify because she had exhausted all six of her sponsor’s exemptions previously this season.
Gaining her tour membership on the eve of her national tournament was special for Henderson.
“I don’t think it could have worked out any better,” she said. “I’m pretty far from my home but still in Canada with all the Canadian support and fans.”
The last Canadian to win an LPGA Tour event on home soil was Jocelyne Bourassa in 1973 in La Canadienne, the precursor to the Canadian Women’s Open. Her victory, in a playoff at Montreal, earned the Shawinigan, Que., native $10,000.
The win in Portland improved Henderson’s earnings to over US$660,000 and moved her to No. 17 in the world rankings.
The CP Women’s Open, which begins Thursday and ends Sunday, will be played on the 6,681-yard, par-72 Vancouver Golf Club. The winner will take home $337,500.
Kane, who is playing in her 25th Canadian national championship, said Henderson has the potential to win.
“My advice to her is embrace it, enjoy it,” said Kane. “She could very easily win this thing.”
The field of 156 players, including 14 Canadians, is deep in talent. Among those to watch are Inbee Park of South Korea, ranked No. 1 in the world, who won the recent Women’s British Open; Lydio Ko of New Zealand, a two-time winner of the CP Women’s Open, who is currently ranked second in the world; American Stacy Lewis, who has won 11 Tour titles during her career and is No. 3 in the world; and Norway’s Suzann Pettersen, who has 15 Tour titles to her credit and is tied for seventh in the world rankings.
Henderson played her first LPGA event as a 14-year-old on this same course. She returns confident in her ability to hoist the trophy on Sunday.
“I think it’s possible,” she said. “My game is in a great spot, as long as I can stay focused and determined over the next couple of days.
“I think if I can get a solid game plan together and go out there and play my game on Thursday, it could happen.”