Those fans of golf who believe, or want to believe, that the first major of the year begins Thursday and not next week at Augusta National will get why Brooke Henderson made sure to visit Poppie’s Pond.
“It’s just the best sight in the world,” said Henderson, who will get more glimpses this week at the water beside the 18th green where champions of the Kraft Nabisco Championship take their ceremonial plunge, a tradition first started by Amy Alcott in 1988.
Expecting a 16-year-old from Smiths Falls, Ont., to make that leap come Sunday is asking a little too much, but the sixth-ranked amateur in the world is hoping to make a splash this week at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
“I was just so excited,” she said Wednesday, recalling a text she got from her dad, telling her about the exemption into the LPGA Tour major just as she finished English class.
“I ran to my closest friends and told them. I was just so happy. I had to write three tests that day, so I don’t think I was too focused on the tests after that,” said Henderson, who will join Toronto’s Rebecca-Lee Bentham as the only Canadians in the field.
Her enthusiasm is understandable, but Henderson will need to be focused on the test ahead of her this week. Making the cut in her fifth LPGA Tour event will be a positive outcome, but she did that in her first major at last year’s U.S. Women’s Open.
Henderson went on a wild ride at the Sebonack Golf Club last June, where she opened with a one-under 71, but went 76-83-77 to finish 19 over and in a tie for 59th.
Playing the weekend there was also an accomplishment she’ll be attempting to repeat, while using her previous experience to improve on what happened last year.
“It’s a lot more comfortable being around the big stars,” said Henderson, who has verbally committed to spending her collegiate career at the University of Florida.
“They know me a little bit better and call me by name, which is pretty cool, so my nerves are calmed down a little bit and I know what to expect, where I was a little unsure in the beginning at the U.S. Open, but now, I feel ready to go and can’t wait to tee it up,” she said.
“At the U.S. Open, I got to play with my idol in the third round and it was definitely an eye-opening experience for me. I learned a lot from her,” she said of Morgan Pressel, who won this event in 2007 at the age of 18.
Henderson will have her sister Brittany, an accomplished player in her own right, on the bag, adding that her big sister knows her game and makes wise club decisions for her, but one thing that her U.S. Women’s Open experience taught her is that preparation is critical for this test.
“I learned a lot from the U.S. Open because it’s such a difficult course. I know that I really need to plan the course out well and know where to hit shots and know where to miss them,” she said.
“I’ve played the course three times this week – Sunday, Monday and Tuesday – so I have a good idea of the course, so (Wednesday), I’m just going back over it and practicing some of the shots I need to hit,” said the 2013 Canadian amateur champion.
The par 72 Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills is 6,738 yards long and Henderson, the 2012 Canadian junior champ, figures she’ll need a hot hand at both ends of each hole.
“It’s a tight course and it’s playing very long, so a good driver, the right side of the fairway or the correct side of the fairway, is very important,” she said.
“The greens are pretty slopey and they all run towards the valley, so it’s good to know and keep in the back of your head,” said Henderson, who figures she’ll need to get out of the gate quickly as she did at the U.S. Women’s Open.
“It’s definitely a learning experience. I would love to make the cut here as well and then, after making the cut, keep moving up that leaderboard, but this is all just a learning experience and hopefully, I can take this experience with me for future years,” she said.
There will, after all, be plenty of tests ahead for a teenager with such potential.