Brooke Henderson has been demanding a lot of of my time this Canada Day weekend, which isn’t all that surprising for a golf writer keeping an eye on an 18-year-old who appears to be zeroing in on third LPGA Tour victory, one of them a major championship just a few weeks back.
As she defends her first LPGA victory at last year’s Portland Cambia Classic, Henderson takes a two-shot lead into Sunday’s finale in Portland, not quite the five-shot margin she held at that point last year, but still a nice cushion to have if she can continue spinning her magic at Columbia Edgewater Country Club.
While going through some back files in an extensive Brooke file, I came across a comment that appeared in a CBC poll that asked if Henderson is Canada’s top female athlete of 2016, which is considerably premature since we’re only halfway through the calendar year.
The person leaving the comment compared Henderson to Eugenie Bouchard, the Canadian who hit some rough road in her tennis career after looking so spectacular not long ago.
“We risk doing to her what we did to Eugenie – put her way up on a pedestal, put huge amounts of media attention and pressure on her which took her focus off just enjoying the game and playing because she loved it.
These are young athletes just starting out on the big stage. Let them mature.”
That comment pretty much echoes a blog I wrote here when Henderson first turned pro, but so much has happened since then, not the least of which is her ascension to second place in the world rankings and her two victories to date, including her major championship at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in which she defeated world No. 1 Lydia Ko in a playoff.
Can you imagine the snarls the media would get as readers and listeners accused it of shamefully ignoring such a Canadian talent if we didn’t cover Henderson?
Besides, Henderson hasn’t done anything to be negative about. Even when she missed the cut in Arkansas last week, it was only the second time since she turned pro and the first time since she earned tour membership after the win last year in Portland. Barely anybody noticed.
Anytime she does go thump in a pothole, it’s glaring because of all the positives she has displayed this year, not the least of which is her streak of eight consecutive top-10 finishes, nine if you include one on the Ladies European Tour, earlier this year.
She has followed up her missed cut last week with another outstanding performance so far in Portland this week, so a good part of her success is not so much total avoidance of pitfalls, but her ability to recover from them, which is remarkable if done consistently by an 18-year-old.
On Friday, for example, she was tied with Suzann Pettersen for the lead, which she momentarily lost a grip on when her one bogey on the day came on her second-last hole. She made up for it with a birdie on 18, made possible by an outstanding approach shot.
“It was 145 to the front and I was trying to hit it just over that,” she said.
“At first, I thought there was no way I could go for the green. I was just thinking about laying up before the water, but then, I knew that was a hard shot, so I kind of re-looked at it and saw if I could get it over the front right apron and just give myself a putt, that would be good. Turned out really well,” she added.
“I just didn’t hit the ball as solidly as I’m used to. On this course, you kind of need to hit fairways and you need to hit greens. For the way I struck the ball, I scored extremely well,” said Henderson.
Giving herself opportunities even when her ball-striking wasn’t where she wanted it to be was really the key to her holding on to a piece of the leading going into Saturday’s round.
She once again seemed to be rolling along and pushed her score to 14 under before she took a double bogey on the 13th hole, as did Mariajo Uribe, who was in pursuit, but both players recovered with a birdie on 16 as Henderson finished with a two-under 70 and Uribe, a 71.
“I just didn’t really take my time too much on the tee shot. I set my target and then just didn’t really commit to it, which is a problem for anybody, but especially for me,” said Henderson.
“So, I just tried to regroup a little bit after that and was able to make one more birdie coming in,” she added.
Once again, Henderson wasn’t totally pleased with the way she played, but she still holds a two-shot lead.
She’s still making it work. One can only imagine what will happen if she does get her game back to where she wants it. The occasional bad shot is not out of the ordinary in golf, which means it’s nothing to dwell on.
The rest of the field is two shots behind Uribe, so the early part of the final round, at least for now, is shaping up to be a two-horse race, but who knows by the time they get to the first tee?
With Henderson being a former goalie in hockey, superstition dictates that you never suggest a win until the deal is done. That’s not to imply there won’t be a rough spot or two over the last 18 holes of her title defence in Portland, but she seems to find a way out in front of so many Canadians and other fans watching.
For that reason, you have to like her chances.