Hometown and hockey shape LPGA winner Henderson

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2015, 9:15 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Brooke Henderson is attacking the zone again, looking to light the lamp.

These are hockey terms that could describe Henderson’s return to the LPGA this week for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship, fitting metaphors in how this former Canadian junior hockey player is using her own special experiences to find an edge in the golf world.

Henderson tees it up at Tiburon Golf Club looking to continue to press the action in a bid to join Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson as the most formidable young players in the women’s game.

“I have a lot of big dreams and big goals that I’m not even close to yet,” Henderson told GolfChannel.com. “I have to work really hard to get better. This year was a steppingstone in the right direction.”

A remarkable steppingstone.

While Ko and Inbee Park deservedly dominate the storylines in Naples this week, Henderson will make her final start this season relishing the chance to put the finishing touch on her highly successful journey to LPGA membership.

“What Brooke did this year, nobody could really comprehend,” said Dave Henderson, Brooke’s father. “She hears this all time: ‘How did you do it? It seems like an impossible thing, and you did it.’”

Henderson won the Cambia Portland Classic in an eight-shot runaway as a 17-year-old in August, becoming the third youngest winner in LPGA history. The victory allowed her to claim LPGA membership with commissioner Mike Whan waiving the tour’s rule requiring members to be at least 18 years old.

The victory was just part of Henderson’s daunting journey.

This wasn’t a free-wheeling teenage amateur with nothing to lose running up the score in Portland. This was a fledgling pro performing admirably under the pressure of spending this entire year trying to earn LPGA membership the hard way. She did just that through limited sponsor exemptions and Monday qualifying after she was denied a waiver of the tour’s age restriction in an attempt to earn a tour card at LPGA Q-School last year.

“At the beginning of this year, I knew there was a long road ahead of me,” Henderson said.

Really, looking back, Dave Henderson sees junior hockey’s demanding disciplines and Brooke’s big sister as instrumental in preparing the way to this year’s success. Brooke emerged from the hockey-centric small town of Smiths Falls, Ontario, with special tools and a special guide in her sister, Brittany.

The attacking zone metaphor above doesn’t actually work for Brooke, Dave will tell you, because Brooke was a goaltender, just like Dave, though Dave didn’t really want her to play when the local peewee team in Smiths Falls came calling.

Brooke’s mom, Darlene, was the one who signed Brooke up to play. Brooke was just 8.

“I wasn’t keen on her playing,” Dave said. “I thought girls looked better with teeth.”

Dave was the goalie at the University of Toronto, where he played for Mike Keenan in the ‘70s. That’s “Iron Mike” Keenan, who went on to coach a number of NHL teams, including the Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers in 1994. Dave went on to play for the Junior A Nepean Raiders and the Ottawa 67s.

Hockey’s a tough sport, especially when you’re a goaltender. It takes a certain physical and mental toughness to defend the net.

Imagining Brooke in goal might seem a jarring proposition for fellow LPGA pros. With her blonde hair, striking blue eyes and soft voice, Henderson carries herself with a disarmingly sweet and gentle disposition. That’s not how she carried herself in goal, though.

“I got angry when someone threw one by me,” Henderson said.

That didn’t happen very often, though. Brooke quickly became a very good goaltender for the Smiths Falls Cubs, helping her team win a provincial championship. She played hockey until she made Golf Canada’s national women’s team as a 14-year-old, but hockey’s still a big part of her competitive DNA.

“I don’t want to say Smiths Falls is stupid over hockey, but we really love our hockey,” Dave said.

Though Smiths Falls is a town of just 8,978 residents in eastern Ontario, it is home to three hockey rinks, including the new Gerry Lowe Memorial Rink of Dreams. Dave was a school teacher in Smiths Falls and Darlene worked for the county.

“The rinks hold the community together,” Dave said.

As a goalie, Brooke’s body changed. Wearing all that protective padding, squatting in goal for long durations, sometimes in multiple weekend games in big tournaments, her legs grew strong. Even when she was playing golf in the summer, she was preparing for hockey. Paul Vaillancourt, the head pro at Smiths Falls Golf & Country Club when Brooke was growing up, remembers her standing behind the clubhouse and whipping tennis balls at the wall, training her reflexes by catching rebounding balls.

“She worked on her form, her footwork, being square, catching these balls barehanded in drills Dave gave her,” Vaillancourt said.

Dave says the leg strength Brooke developed, the fast-twitch muscle she trained defending shots on goal, are large reasons she is such a long driver of the golf ball today. Brooke has good hands, too, a significant reason her short game is so good. Brad Beecher, Park’s caddie, watched Brooke in their pairing together at the KPMG Womens’ PGA Championship in June. While he knew Henderson was a long hitter, he marveled over the maturation of her short game. It’s something he said allows her to play so aggressively hitting irons into tough hole locations.

There’s something else hockey did for Henderson. It toughened her up. She took more than one jarring shot off her facemask in her junior career.

What’s that like?

“You’re just glad you stopped it, that it didn’t go in the net,” Henderson said. “You learn something getting hit in the face. You learn to get your hands up quicker.”

A shot off the face, Henderson says, isn’t nearly as painful as the feeling that you let your team down allowing a goal.

“You have to be a little different to be a goalie,” Henderson said. “You’re either the hero or you’re not. You learn a lot being in that position, and it’s something that applies to golf. You let a goal in, you’re angry, but you have to let it go and get your focus back or you’re going to let another goal in.

“It’s the same thing in golf. Bad things happen, but you have to hang in there and keep fighting.”

Smiths Falls admires that about Brooke. She is beloved there. So is her older sister, Brittany, who also was a standout on the Canadian national golf team. Brittany, six years older than Brooke, went on to play at Coastal Carolina University and now plays the Symetra Tour.

“There are about five roads that lead into Smiths Falls, and at every one there’s a sign that says ‘Welcome to Smiths Falls, home of Brooke and Brittany Henderson,’” Vaillancourt said. “There’s just a huge amount of community pride.”

Whether you’re getting your morning coffee at Tim Horton’s or the Coffee Culture in Smiths Falls, you’re going to hear conversations about Brooke’s performance, says Smiths Falls mayor Shawn Pankow.


Brooke Henderson poses after winning the Portland Classic, her first LPGA victory. (Getty)

“I was in Niagara Falls the morning after Brooke won in Portland,” Pankow said. “I was up early, and there on a newsstand I see Brooke’s face on the front of our Canadian national newspaper, the Globe and Mail. I have that in my office now.”

Henderson was the first Canadian woman to win an LPGA event in 14 years, since Lorie Kane won the Takefuji Classic in 2001. Pankow says he isn’t a huge golf fan, but he has the LPGA app on his mobile phone now just to follow Henderson. He isn’t alone in Smiths Falls.

“I think everyone in town must follow her on Facebook,” Pankow said.

Smiths Falls has endured some hard times in recent years. The town was known as “The Chocolate Capital of Canada” until the big Hershey plant there closed seven years ago. A lot of jobs were lost, and so was the commerce the factory brought.

“I used to love the smell of chocolate in the air as a little girl,” Brooke said. “I think it’s why I have a sweet tooth today.”

A large regional hospital for the developmentally disabled in Smiths Falls closed a couple years after the Hershey factory boarded up.

“We’ve had our challenges,” Pankow said. “We’re working on rebranding who we are and what we will be in the future. There have been negative stories to overcome, but certainly what’s happening with Brooke and Brittany is one of the most positive stories our community’s enjoyed in a number of years.”

Brittany, who often caddies for Brooke, says a part of Smiths Falls follows them wherever they go.

“It’s special having that support, having everyone rally together, supporting you,” Brittany said. “It’s really helped Brooke and me get where we are. It’s motivation knowing they’re with us. It keeps you going.”

While Brittany is still chasing her dream trying to join Brooke as an LPGA member, Dave and Darlene see how Brooke became successful chasing her older sister. Brooke wasn’t pushed into the game so much as she was pulled along trying to keep up with her sister.


Brittany Henderson caddies for sister Brooke at this year's KPMG Women's PGA (Getty)

Canadian women’s national team coach Tristan Mullally saw it, too.

“Brooke didn’t really look at the other players around her and compare herself to them, she looked at her sister,” Mullally said. “Her sister was always her measuring stick.”

When your sister is a Golf Canada standout, and you’re six years younger than she is, that’s a daunting standard.

“Brooke set her sights far above the level of the girls she was playing against, and that helped her reach another level,” Mullally said. “They’re pretty much inseparable. I don’t think I’ve ever heard them say a cross word to each other. They’ve always got each other’s backs.”

That helped Brooke become a teen phenom. It helped her become the youngest player to win a professional event, taking a Canadian Women’s Tour event when she was 14. It helped her tie for 10th at the U.S. Women’s Open as a 16-year-old and finish runner-up at the U.S. Women’s Amateur last year and then rise to the No. 1 women’s amateur in the world.

Brittany is caddying for Brooke this week, but it’s a testament to their bond that Brooke spent the last month of the Symetra Tour season caddying for Brittany. With the LPGA off on the Asian swing and Brooke not eligible to play, Brooke went to work for her sister.

“She made me carry her big bag the last two weeks,” Brooke joked. “It’s huge, pretty heavy, but I had fun.”

Brittany appreciated having Brooke on her bag just a couple months after Brooke won in Portland.

“It meant a lot to me,” Brittany said. “I think she appreciated me giving up some Symetra Tour events to caddie for her. Brooke’s my best friend, and I think we both appreciate the sacrifices we make for each other.”

Brooke likes having Brittany at her side again this week.

“She’s my best friend,” Brooke said. “Even though she’s older, a lot of people think we’re twins. It’s not just the way we look, but the way we act.”

Smiths Falls will be rooting for the Henderson sisters to make them proud again this week.

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x