In mid-June, Brooke Henderson returned home for a break prior to her defense at this week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and as luck would have it, she was coming off an LPGA Tour victory – at the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give – so when she arrived in little Smiths Falls, Ontario, she was surprised by a large group of family and friends who congratulated her.
However, Henderson’s sister (and caddie) Brittany says even if they didn’t win that tournament, the same crowd would have been there to celebrate.
That’s because, for the Hendersons, success on the LPGA Tour is a family affair.
When the 19-year-old captured her first major title a year ago, her sister Brittany was of course on her bag, and although parents Dave and Darlene weren’t on site, you can bet they were the first people the sisters called.
The foursome travels to many LPGA Tour events together and are as tight-knit a group as you’ll find in professional golf.
For example, Brooke has been on the record saying if it weren’t for Brittany’s golf prowess growing up, she wouldn’t be the golfer or the person she is today.
But both Brittany and Brooke’s passion for the sport stems from Dave’s love of teaching, a craft he honed for 31 years in Smiths Falls, about 45 minutes outside of Canada’s capital city of Ottawa.
“We value family and we do things together,” he says. “I taught school for 31 years and we did the same thing for those kids. You make things fun and interesting and give them opportunities with technology and books and reading and writing and sports, and I did that with my own children too.”
The Henderson family has a cottage about 40 minutes from their hometown in Westport, Ont. and it was at a nine-hole course called Rideau Lakes Golf and Country Club where both Brooke and Brittany learned to play.
“We’d play at different times and we bought a golf cart which made it easy for the kids to come along,” explains Dave. “We made a fun little thing to do and both girls grew from that.”
Brooke has long been known as a phenom, winning her first professional event at just 14-years-old (and as an amateur). She passed on attending university – she was primed to head to the University of Florida – in favor of an LPGA Tour career, a decision that has turned out to be highly fruitful so far. She has four LPGA victories in fewer than two years (tied for second-most by a Canadian woman), including the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, her first major.
That title, which Brooke said a year ago, was a ‘dream come true,’ was the culmination of lots of hard work from Brooke, of course, but the Henderson family as well.
With the major triumph, Brooke became just the second Canadian woman to win an LPGA Tour major – Sandra Post was the first – and now the whole squad is eager for their return.
However, they won’t be resting on their laurels in terms of title defense.
“It doesn’t really feel like a defense, it just feels like another tough major championship,” says Brittany, as the tournament moved from Sahalee Country Club in 2016 to Olympia Fields Country Club in 2017. “You just have to go in and see what the course presents to you and have to get a good strategy in place. As always, you have to stay patient with majors.”
Despite the fact that it’s a changed venue, Brooke is excited to take some good memories from 2016 into the tournament this year. She fired a 6-under-par 65 in the final round last year to get into a playoff with Lydia Ko, who she eventually beat.
“I knew I would have to do something special to beat her, and I was able to do that,” said Brooke last year.
Fast-forward to two weeks ago, and Brooke’s first victory of 2017 came at a good time on the schedule – leading into this week’s major – but also an appropriate time on the calendar: it was Father’s Day.
“To win for my Dad, who is my coach and my best friend, and being able to say that trophy was for him… for all the hard work he’s put in for my sister and I and to be able to celebrate Father’s Day together was just really special,” says Brooke.
And although it was Brooke lifting the trophy, Dave knows the gift was from both of his girls.
“Brittany was just as big a part of that team,” says Dave.
Despite putting her own professional golf aspirations on hold for now, Brittany is enjoying being on the bag for her younger sister, and every once-and-a-while still imparts some sisterly wisdom on her.
At least year’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, for example, Brittany and Brooke were chatting about their approach to the eighth hole at Sahalee, and Brittany said to hit it near a man who was standing behind the green. As Brooke addressed the ball, the man moved about 10 yards left, so Brooke, now laughing, says she backed off and the sisters reset their plan.
“We try to talk about a few fun things because if you’re concentrating for 72 holes or more every week it can be really strenuous. If you can keep it light on occasion it really helps to give you more energy,” says Brittany. “(Caddying) has been so fun for me. At the end of the day if she plays well, I feel like I did. I think that’s really good for me, and I’ve been having fun. I think she’s enjoyed having me because I’m still here. I must be doing something right.”
And although Brooke’s name is on the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship trophy, the second of those names – Henderson – represents a family of four with similar goals, and equal sharing of excitement, whenever anyone has success.
“Having my Mom and my sister and my Dad travel with me and be a part of this amazing career and lifestyle that I have is amazing,” says Brooke. “I wouldn’t be able to do it without all three of them.”