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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"The Men In Blazers" Hosting Nightly Show From The Open, July 18-22 on NBCSN

By Golf Channel Public RelationsJuly 17, 2018, 1:55 pm

Show to Include Off-beat Interviews, Unique Features and Men In Blazers Distinctive Takes on The Open

VIDEO: Men In Blazers: Carnoustie Through the Years Hosting The Open

Culminating in France’s thrilling win on Sunday, NBC Sports’ critically-acclaimed The Men In Blazers – Roger Bennett and Michael Davies – have spent the past month breaking down all of the action surrounding the FIFA World Cup. However, there will be no rest for the duo as they leave behind their Panic Room studio in the “crap part of SoHo” in Manhattan to host a nightly show in conjunction with The 147TH Open. The show will feature the pair’s signature, unconventional style in providing unique takes on golf’s original championship while “sporting an arsenal of the finest golf sweaters that could be found on eBay.” Originating from Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland, Men In Blazers will air nightly on NBCSN Wednesday, July 18 through Sunday, July 22.

In addition to delivering a series of features for NBC Sports’ coverage surrounding The Open, the nightly Men In Blazers show on NBCSN will offer expanded highlights following each round; off-beat interviews, special guests and cameos; along with non-traditional stories highlighting cultural elements relevant to Carnoustie and The Open.

“Both Davo and I grew up with The Open being the heartbeat of our sporting year,” said Bennett. “To cover it from that beautiful monster that is Carnoustie is the honor of a lifetime. We look forward to savoring every attempt to tame Hogan’s Alley, the futile battle between man and nature, and all those ‘subtle’ Ian Poulter wardrobe changes, in equal measure.”

Dedicated features being showcased over the duration of the week include: a retrospect on past Opens having been staged at Carnoustie; an in-depth recollection of the unforgettable 1999 Open; an introduction to the second-oldest golf shop in the world; a history lesson on Carnoustie and its influence on golf around the world; and an examination of Carnoustie’s local delicacy known as “bridies”.


Wednesday, July 18               11-11:30 p.m. (NBCSN)

Thursday, July 19                   11-11:30 p.m. (NBCSN)

Friday, July 20                        1-1:30 a.m. (NBCSN, Saturday overnight)

Saturday, July 21                    11:30 p.m.-Midnight (NBCSN)

Sunday, July 22                      10-10:30 p.m. (NBCSN)

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Woods delofts 2-iron to use off Carnoustie tees

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 1:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tiger Woods has been effective this season hitting a 2-iron off many tees, reverting to a version of the stinger shot he made so popular.

This week at baked out and brown Carnoustie he went to the next level, adding a new 2-iron to his bag that he bent to 17 degrees, down from his normal 20-degree version.

“I took a few degrees off of it, just trying to be able to have the ability to chase one down there,” he explained on Tuesday.

Woods said he still carries the club about the same distance, from 245 to 250 yards, but “it gets to its final destination much differently [on the ground].”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“Obviously, it rolls out whereas mine back home, I've generally liked having it 20 degrees because I can hit the ball into the par 5s as an option,” he said. “This one's not really designed for hitting the ball in the air to par 5s as an option. It's more of a driving club.”

After playing two practice rounds, Woods said he wasn’t sure how much he would use the new 2-iron given the dry conditions which have led to ridiculously long tee shots, and he said he might adjust the club more if the course doesn’t slow down.

“If it softens up, it could be a good club,” he said. “If it doesn't soften up, then I might just add a degree to it and keep it a little softer and not have it so hot.”

The Open is the second consecutive event where Woods has added to his bag. At The National earlier this month, he went with a new mallet-headed putter that he plans to continue to use this week.

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Europeans out to end the recent American dominance

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 12:59 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In golf’s biggest events, the Americans have left the rest of the world feeling red, white and mostly blue.

If you’re wondering whether the U.S. currently holds a meaningful title, the answer is probably yes.

Golf’s four majors? Yep.

The Ryder Cup? Indeed.

The No. 1 player in the world? Absolutely.

The Presidents, Solheim, Walker, Palmer and Curtis Cups? Uh-huh.

It’s been a popular talking point at the men’s majors, as Europe’s finest players have been peppered about why they’ve all seemingly fallen under Uncle Sam’s spell.

After all, the Americans haven’t ripped off five major wins in a row like this since 1981-82 – when Justin Rose was still in diapers.

“I don’t know what I’d put it to down to,” the Englishman said Tuesday, “other than the American boys in the world rankings and on the golf course are performing really, really well. The top end of American golf right now is incredibly strong.”

Since 2000, the Americans have taken titles at eight of the nine courses on the modern Open rota. The only one they’ve yet to conquer is Carnoustie, and that’s probably because they’ve only had one crack at it, in 2007, when an Irishman, Padraig Harrington, prevailed in a playoff.

Not since Tom Watson in 1975 has a U.S. player survived Carnoustie, arguably the most difficult links on the planet. But Americans ranging from Dustin Johnson to Tiger Woods comprise six of the oddsmakers' top 10 favorites, all listed at 25/1 or better.

“America, there’s no doubt about it, and there’s no other way to put it, other than they have an exceptional bunch of players at the moment,” Tommy Fleetwood said. “It just so happens that it has been a run of American golfers that have won majors, but at the same time, they’ve generally been the best players in the world at the time that they’ve won them.

“You don’t really look at them as a nationality. You just look at them as players and people, and you can understand why they’re the ones winning the majors.”

Indeed, there’s not a fluke among them.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Since this American run began last summer at Erin Hills, Brooks Koepka (twice), Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed have hoisted trophies. All were inside the top 25 in the world when they won. All were multiple-time winners on the world stage before that major. And all, most ominously for Europe, were 29 or younger.

“There’s a bit of camaraderie amongst all of them,” Rose said. “I know Brooks and Dustin are incredibly close, and you’ve got Rickie (Fowler) and Justin Thomas and Jordan as a group are all really close. It’s working really well for them. They’re spurring each other on.”

That’s why there’s even more anticipation than usual for the Ryder Cup. The Americans haven’t won on foreign soil in a quarter century, but this band of brothers is better and closer than those who have tried and failed before them. Couple that with a few aging stars on the European side, and there’s a growing sense that the Americans could be on the verge of a dominant stretch.

That should sound familiar.

During an eight-major span in 2010-11, the most common refrain was: What’s Wrong with American Golf? International players captured seven consecutive majors, including six in a row at one point. They took over the top spot in the world rankings. They turned the Ryder Cup into a foregone conclusion. In the fall of 2010, Colin Montgomerie pounded his chest and declared that there’d been a “changing of the guard over to Europe,” and it was hard to find fault in his reasoning.

“European golf was very healthy a few years ago for a long time,” McIlroy said. “It seemed like every major someone from the island of Ireland turned up to, we were winning it. It doesn’t seem that long ago.”

Because it wasn’t.

So even though it’s been more than a year since an International player held any title of consequence, these types of runs are cyclical, and Europe in particular has no shortage of contenders.

Major drought or not, McIlroy is a threat every time he tees it up. Rose turns 38 in two weeks, but he’s playing arguably the best golf of his career, recording a top-10 finish in a ridiculous 17 of his past 21 starts. Fleetwood is fresh off a runner-up finish at the U.S. Open, where he closed with 63. Jon Rahm is a top-5 machine. Alex Noren just won on the Ryder Cup course in France.

“I think Tommy, clearly, showed how close the Europeans are to challenging that dominance as well,” Rose said. “So it’s not like we’re a mile behind. It’s just that they’re on a great run right now, and there’s no reason why a European player shouldn’t come through this week.”

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Links to the past: Tiger's return revives Open memories

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 12:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tiger Woods rekindles his love affair with links golf this week at Carnoustie, which seems about right considering his introduction to the ancient ways of the game began here on the Angus coast.

It was here on the most brutal of the Open Championship rota courses that a 19-year-old Tiger first played links golf at the 1995 Scottish Open, an eye-opening and enlightening experience.

“I remember my dad on the range with me, saying, ‘Are you ever going to hit the ball past the 100 yard sign?’” Woods recalled on Tuesday at Carnoustie, his first start at The Open since 2015. “I said, ‘No, I'm just enjoying this. Are you kidding me? This is the best.’”

During this most recent comeback, Tiger has been all smiles. A new, relaxed version of his former self made calm and approachable by age and the somber influence of injury. But this week has been different.

During a practice round with Justin Thomas on Monday he laughed his way all the way around the brown and bouncy seaside layout. Much of that had to do with his return to the unique ways of links golf, the creative left side of his brain taking the wheel from the normally measured right side for one glorious week.

He talked of game plans and strategic advantages on a parched pitch that has seen drives rolling out over 400 yards. At his core, Tiger is a golf nerd for all the right reasons and this kind of cerebral test brings out the best of that off-the-charts golf IQ.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Although there are no shortages of defining moments in Tiger’s career and one can make all sorts of arguments for what would be his seminal moment – from the 1997 Masters to the 2008 U.S. Open –the 2006 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool stands out, based on near-perfect execution.

In ’06 at Liverpool, which played to a similar shade of dusty yellow as Carnoustie will this week, Tiger hit just a single driver, opting instead for a steady diet of long irons off tees. For the week he hit 48 of 56 fairways, 58 of 72 greens and rolled the field for a two-stroke victory and his third, and most recent, claret jug.

This Open has all the makings of a similar tactical tour de force. For this championship he’s put a new 2-iron into play that’s more like a strong 1-iron (17 degrees) and imagines, given the conditions, a similar low, running menu.

“It could be that way,” Woods said when asked the similarities between this week’s conditions and the ’06 championship. “I'm not going to hit that many long clubs off the tees, just because I hit a 3-iron on Monday, down 18, I went 333 [yards]. It can get quick out here.”

If Tiger ever needed a major championship confidence boost the Carnoustie Open would be it, an inspiring walk down memory lane to a time when he was the undisputed king of golf.

“[The ’06 Open] is the closest you can compare to this,” David Duval said. “But I struggle to remember that golf course being as fast as this one. It was close, but this one is something else.”

Ernie Els had a slightly different take, albeit one that was no less ominous to the rest of the field this week.

“Liverpool is on a sand hill, this has a bit more run to it,” Els said. “But it’s got the same feel. It’s almost like St. Andrews was in 2000. Very, very fast.”

It’s worth noting that Tiger also won that ’00 Open at the Home of Golf with an even more dominant performance. It is the unique challenges of the links test that make many, even Tiger, consider the Open Championship his best chance to continue his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors.

More than any other Grand Slam gathering, The Open is blind to age and the notion of players competing past their prime. In 2008 at Royal Birkdale, then-53-year-old Greg Norman flirted with the lead until the very end, finishing tied for third; a year later at Turnberry, Tom Watson came within one hole of history at 59 years young.

“It certainly can be done,” Woods said. “You get to places like Augusta National, where it's just a big ballpark, and the golf course outgrows you, unfortunately. That's just the way it goes. But links-style golf courses, you can roll the ball. Even if I get a little bit older, I can still chase some wood or long club down there and hit the ball the same distance.”

Whether this is the week Tiger gets back into the Grand Slam game depends on his ability to replicate those performances from years past on a similarly springy course. As he exited the media center bound for the practice putting green on Tuesday he seemed renewed by the cool sea breeze and the unique challenges of playing the game’s oldest championship.

Coming back to Carnoustie is more than a reintroduction to links golf; for Tiger it’s starting to feel like a bona fide restart to his major career.