Next week, with all the talk about dogwoods and azaleas at Augusta National, you’re bound to hear the oft-told story about the sentimental journey up Magnolia Lane.
Brooke Henderson can relate as she prepares for the ANA Inspiration, the LPGA Tour’s first major of the season this week at Mission Hills in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
“It’s amazing. Once you drive through the gate and everything kind of opens up and you realize you’re here, you came off Dinah Shore Drive and you’re here at Mission Hills Golf and Country Club, where so much history has taken place, and I’m lucky enough I was able to play here two years ago as an amateur,” said Henderson.
“I have so many great memories from that week and I’m hoping to make some more and hopefully, more memorable ones this week,” she added.
Enhancing those memories was a good splash at her initial LPGA major, a tie for 26th place as a 16-year-old amateur at the time and things just got better. Later that year, she was low amateur at the U.S. Women’s Open where she tied for 10th.
Last year, in her initial season as a pro, Henderson continued her fine showings in the majors with identical T5 finishes at the U.S. Women’s Open and KPMG Women’s PGA Championship as she chased LPGA membership, which she received after her win at the Cambia Portland Classic in August.
In six majors to date, Henderson has three top-10 finishes, which is familiar territory for her this year with six consecutive top 10s, five on the LPGA Tour and one on the Ladies European Tour, a run that has vaulted her to seventh in the world rankings before her drive up Dinah Shore Drive this week.
“It’s kind of surreal,” said Henderson, formerly the world’s top-ranked amateur.
“A couple years ago I was ranked way over 200 and now I have it down to No. 7, which is really cool. It’s definitely a big goal of mine to continue to improve every single week and move that ranking up closer to the No. 1 spot,” she said.
“Definitely confidence has really built up in the last few weeks, especially in the last year being able to compete on the LPGA Tour every week and contend for championships,” she added.
“I still have a long way to go. Every week I’m trying to be that little bit better and hopefully, move up my world ranking and move up every week on the leaderboard and hopefully, win some more,” said Henderson.
A win this week would go a long way to springing her even higher on the world rankings. For that to happen, she needs her A+ game, but there’s no reason to doubt she can become the first Canadian to win a LPGA major since Sandra Post won the 1968 LPGA Championship.
If there is a criticism of Henderson’s game this year, it’s her tendency to start slowly, then catch fire on the weekends, something she readily acknowledges.
“Yeah, that’s definitely my goal over the next couple weeks is to get off to faster starts on Thursday-Friday and hopefully, see my name at the top of the leaderboard for more than just two days on the weekend,” she said.
“Last week (at the KIA Classic in Carsbad, Calif.), I was kind of out of it – T30 going into Sunday and then was able to shoot. I had a better round and shot up the leaderboard to T10,” said Henderson, adding that hitting fairways will be a key at Mission Hills.
“I’m normally a pretty straight driver of the ball, which I think will be helpful. You’ve just really got to play smart here. There are a lot of holes that can jump up and bite you or you can make birdies if you’re playing well and hitting it to the right spots,” she said.
Canadians will obviously be watching what she can do this week, but it goes beyond the borders of her home and native land as Henderson has developed a following from other countries, as well. If composure is key at a major, and it is, Henderson is beyond her years, enjoying the attention as opposed to freaking out about it.
“The Canadian support is unbelievable,” said Henderson.
“When I go home and even every week out on tour, I see big Canadian flags, I see the support all around me and it’s awesome, but I’m building fans in all different countries, including the U.S.,” she said.
“People come up to me and it’s really, really an incredible experience. I’m still looking up to some girls out here on tour like Juli Inkster and things like that and now, people want my autograph and they want my picture with them. It’s really a dream.” she added.
“I love it. If you get attention it’s either you’re doing something really right or you’re doing something really wrong. At this point, I think I’m doing things pretty well. It’s definitely a learning curve and trying to manage time and media requests and things like that, but it’s all good. I’m enjoying it so far,” said Henderson.
Everything will need to be firing on all cylinders if she is to make the leap into greenside Poppie’s Pond on 18 as is the tradition for champions of the season’s first major.
“Definitely crossed my mind,” she admitted.
“It has for sure. I think that’s everybody’s goal and dream once they’ve seen Poppie’s Pond in real life and even on TV. I know growing up as a little girl it was one of my favorite tournaments, so hopefully some day, I’ll make that leap,” said Henderson.