“We couldn’t have possibly fathomed the success” — An Oral History of Brooke Henderson
People & Places

“We couldn’t have possibly fathomed the success” — An Oral History of Brooke Henderson

The year 2020 was a different one for Brooke Henderson, the young professional golfer from Smiths Falls, but once she got back on the links she made her mark, finishing tied for second this past September at the ANA Inspiration in California; in January, she placed ninth at the Tournament of Champions. Here, a look at her career from her fans and coaches, as well as the commentators and other onlookers who have been watching and cheering her on for years.

The moment

While Canada has produced a number of talented golfers, success on home soil has proven challenging. In 2018 at the Wascana Country Club in Regina, that all changed. The Canadian Women’s Open is a highlight event on the LPGA Tour for those wearing the maple leaf. Going into the final round at Wascana, Henderson was in position to break a 45-year drought: no Canadian woman had won the Canadian Women’s Open on the LPGA Tour since Jocelyne Bourassa in 1973. Henderson fired a final-round seven under-par score of 65 to win the national championship by four strokes, finishing with a 21-under total of 267 and sealing the win with a short birdie putt on the 18th hole.

“I swear you could hear cheers around the world coming from Smiths Falls. Even if you weren’t a golf enthusiast, you felt so much hometown pride to see your town in such a positive light. Brooke is just so proud of her roots, and that means a lot.” — Jennifer Aunger-Ritchie, Smiths Falls resident

“It’s one of the top three moments in golf that I’ve covered. The interesting part about Brooke’s win was all the different elements. It was cold, it was an unusual golf course, there was no television for the first nine [holes] so Twitter was exploding with people wanting to know what was going on. That win just stands out for me because of how she never wobbled. She never took a step back.”
–Bob Weeks, TSN Golf Analyst

“I looked around and saw Gail Graham, who’s in the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame, and there’s tears streaming down her face. You’ve got Lorie Kane with tears streaming down her face and Alena Sharp, who plays on the tour, who was emotional. You had her family all there and they were holding each other and you couldn’t help but feel this was electric, emotional all those things that
make sports so special.” — Adam Stanley, LPGA.com

“We went through all the emotions that’s possible. You’re so excited and happy, it brings tears to your eyes. It really didn’t sink in until almost a couple days later, but it was just a special moment.” — David Henderson, father

The rise

From a young age Henderson and older her sister Brittany were a fixture at the Smiths Falls Golf and Country Club. Locals love recalling how Brooke would use her lunch hour or recess to go hit balls. Some might say Brooke was destined to play golf — both her parents were talented players, and her uncle, Tom Henderson, competed frequently for many years at the top amateur level. Plus, Brittany, who is seven years older than Brooke, was also showing potential.

Henderson won her first amateur event, the 2010 CN du Quebec, at just 13. In 2013, she won the Canadian Women’s Amateur and was runner-up at the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur. While still an amateur, Henderson won three events on the CN Canadian Women’s Tour and was named the top-ranked female amateur golfer in the world before she made the decision to pass on a college golf scholarship and turned pro in 2014.

“One of my favourite memories is seeing Brooke and Brittany with their mom walking down the fairway and her long blond ponytail swinging side to side as she carried a bag that was nearly as
big as she was. One day it’s pouring rain — like buckets are coming down — and I see Brooke is still out there and I walk up to her and say ‘Brooke, what are you doing?’ and she just replied, ‘If there’s no lightning, we still play.’ That’s just who she is.” — Peter Aunger, former president, Smiths Falls Golf and Country Club

“I first stumbled on her when she was around 14, when she won a professional event on the Canadian Women’s Tour. I wouldn’t say I knew she was going to be the world beater that she is, but she
was definitely something special.” –Bob Weeks, TSN

“The way she was able to drive a golf ball, the way she was able to hit a golf ball off the tee, should not have happened for someone who was 16 years old. The way that she swung and the sound of the golf ball coming off her driver was almost offensive, it was so good.” –Adam Stanley, LPGA.com

“On the golf course, I’m not called ‘dad’ — I’m called ‘coach,’ and so we try to differentiate the two. I’m a proud dad and coach. It’s a remarkable career Brooke has had. We couldn’t have possibly fathomed the success. We still go along day to day, week to week to process things, not knowing where it’s going to go and how far it’s going to go. Because who would have ever known that Brooke would become the best golfer Canada’s ever seen?” –David Henderson, father

“I was fortunate enough to meet Brooke earlier in my career prior to her announcing that she was turning pro. I had heard she was down to earth and kind before meeting her, but I was still surprised by how genuinely nice and humble she seemed. For a person that age to be so composed and confident, yet still come across as genuine, was really cool to see. Her combination of skill, success, and personality really made her an easy athlete for all of Canada to cheer for.” –Mark Borowiecki, Ottawa Senators

“I waited two hours to meet Brooke and then she signed my visor and was really nice.” –Sadie Hanley, 11-year-old golfer

The impact

It didn’t take Henderson long to win her first pro event, the Four Winds Invitational in Indiana, in June 2015. She followed that up by winning the Cambia Portland Classic in Oregon, making her the first Canadian to win on the LPGA Tour since 2001. Following the event, Henderson was granted LPGA Tour membership. In 2016, Henderson won her first major, the KPMG Women’s PGA
Championship, making her the first Canadian woman to win a major in 48 years. By the summer of 2017, Henderson had made a name for herself on the LPGA Tour and was set to return home on the big stage. The Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club, a course just down the road from her home, was hosting the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open. Henderson ended up finishing tied for 12th, but her impact on the game didn’t go unnoticed.

“My friends and I who golf have begun starting families, and we always joke that our sons or daughters will play on the LPGA or PGA tours. Whenever we mention the LPGA in these conversations we automatically think of Brooke. She has left a lasting impression on many of us who have followed her career. Brooke is a great ambassador for Ottawa and the surrounding communities and is the face of golf in Canada for a lot of us.” –Mark Borowiecki, Ottawa Senators

“Success is something very tangible. It’s a dream that’s become reality for someone who is just 20 to 30 minutes from our house, and the fact that she worked hard and set goals is a great example. It shows that it’s something that is real and is possible. To see Brooke realize her dream is inspiring to my daughter, who has set her sights on a golf scholarship.” –Amy McKinnon Hanley, superfan

Brooke is definitely a role model in my life. Her success and determination inspire me to do my best in everything I do whether it’s in golf or school or any sport really. She definitely motivates me as a player to do my best and stay focused when I’m out on the course. I want to achieve my goals the same way Brooke does, with complete determination, hard work, and heart.” –Chloe Wilson, Carleton University golf  team

The future

While Henderson already has more wins than any other Canadian golfer, many feel she is just starting to hit her stride. Henderson has shown the ability to win under pressure, and as her game continues to evolve and mature, the possibilities for success are endless. While the Summer Olympics in Tokyo were postponed to 2021, that just gives Henderson more time to prepare for a
medal finish. Canadian Golf Hall of Famer George Lyon is the only Canadian ever to win an Olympic medal, having won gold in 1904. Golf was featured at the Olympics in 1900 and 1904 and was reinstated for 2016 in Rio. Henderson finished tied for seventh in the women’s event, posting Canada’s top result in the sport.

There’s a lot of excitement around the news that the CP Women’s Open will be returning to Ottawa in 2022 at the Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club, where Henderson is an honorary member. Henderson rarely has the opportunity to play close to home, and this will definitely be a special event. The impact Henderson has on golf in Canada won’t be known for a while, but she’s already made an impression on the next generation.

“You think about how much history she’s made already, but her history is really just getting started. You talk to Mike Weir or Sandra Post, who also have eight wins, and they told me they’re cheering her on and want her to put the pedal down and take it as far as she possibly can and get to 20 wins or 30 wins or maybe be a member of the Golf Hall of Fame when it’s all said and done.” –Adam Stanley, LPGA.com

“It’s a little tricky. You want to stay in the moment, but Brooke knows there will be a day when it will all disappear and she has to retire or do something else. If you want to play well, you have to stay in the moment, but you do always have to try and predict what’s coming up in the near and long range planning as well.” –David Henderson, father

I think the Olympics are big for Brooke. I think last time around in Rio,  she was quite a bit younger, quite a little bit less experienced, and I think she put too much pressure on herself. I think she felt she kind of let the country down when she didn’t play that well. I think now she understands a little bit more how to deal with the pressure.” –Bob Weeks, TSN