Brooke Henderson calls it her “hockey mentality.”
The 25-year-old Canadian arrived in Naples, Florida, for this week’s CME Group Tour Championship battling an upper-back injury and having played just one competitive round in six weeks. She had withdrawn after 18 holes of last week’s Pelican Championship and then canceled her pre-tournament press conference on Wednesday based on recommendation that she “rest as much as possible.”
But Henderson, still in the race for the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year Award, wasn’t about to let her season end without hitting a shot and giving herself a crack at that $2 million first-place prize.
She may not win either on Sunday, but she’s at least made things interesting thanks to a 7-under 65 Saturday that left Henderson in a share of fifth, five shots off the lead with one round to play.
“Just trying to be tough,” Henderson said. “It's the final event of the year – I just really wanted to finish this year on a strong note. I know that I have a month and a half to rest and recover and do everything I need to be ready for next year, so yeah, just pushing through.”
Henderson has been navigating her way around Tiburon Golf Club with a makeshift swing. Her normal action puts too much pressure on her back, so she’s made some tweaks.
“It’s not how I want to be swinging,” Henderson said, “but it’s working OK. … It's tough to not come into this week at my full potential, but I've definitely been making it work, which is all I can really ask for.”
A day after carding just one birdie to go with three bogeys, Henderson went bogey-free on Saturday, notching three birdies and a pair of eagles. She wasn’t happy that she had parred seven straight par-5s after an opening par to begin her third round, so she went and eagled two of her next three, pitching in from 30 yards at No. 6 and rolling in a 20-footer at No. 17.
“That really gives you that extra little bonus and a little bit of momentum,” Henderson said.
Henderson will take all the momentum she can get considering her lead-up to this event. She last completed a 72-hole tournament in late September at The Ascendant LPGA, where she tied for 29th. Her last top-10 was the week prior in Portland. She didn’t play the three events preceding Pelican.
Yet, thanks in large part to summer victories at the ShopRite LPGA Classic and Amundi Evian Championship, Henderson remained on the short list for LPGA’s points-based player of the year. She started the week needing to win and hope that the two players in front of her, Lydia Ko and Minjee Lee, finish third or worse.
Lee is nine shots out of a two-way tie for the lead at 15 under, but Ko is among the two co-leaders, sharing the top spot with Leona Maguire, who fired 63 on Saturday.
Henderson knows leaving Naples on Sunday with any sort of hardware would take something special. But, in a way, she’s already accomplished what she set out to do this week.
“Just coming into in week, honestly, I wasn't even sure if I was going to be playing, so I was just grateful to be in the field and grateful to have the opportunity to play,” Henderson said. “I was just hoping to make it through four days. Now, standing here on the third day, you know, I'm feeling pretty good. So, I'm excited to play tomorrow and to finish the event. That was the biggest thing coming into this week.”