CAMBRIDGE, Ont. – Brooke Henderson arrived Tuesday to Whistle Bear Golf Club with her well-known, light-up-the-room smile already on display. She pulled into the clubhouse just as a luncheon at the course was letting out, and shouts of, ‘there she is!’ and ‘get the camera out!’ didn’t faze the 18-year-old as she flashed a thumbs up, and signed a few autographs.
She was home (well, close enough – Smiths Falls, Ontario is about five hours down the highway from Cambridge) and she could feel the love.
“It's so exciting to be back here really close to home. Even last week, in Calgary, the crowds were amazing, the best I've ever played in front of. The support after I finished my rounds, it was this huge, huge line of autographs and photos. I took the time to see everybody and it was really, really cool,” said Henderson Wednesday. “This week is a little bit closer to home, so I’m hoping some family and friends will make it up to the weekend. I'm excited to be back in this area and back home in Canada.”
It’s been a whirlwind year for Henderson, who has played every event on the LPGA Tour, plus the Olympics, plus numerous sponsor outings (it was announced Wednesday that she and Skechers had just officially entered into a partnership) but she has admitted in the past if she was going to take a week off and go home, she’d just play golf anyway.
Her passion for the game has never waned, meaning it’s likely she’ll keep playing a robust schedule for the immediate future.
“We're still working through and getting ready for our schedule next year. I think it was awesome this year that I was able to play as many events as I have so far and get to know the golf courses a little bit. Lots of them I was playing for the first time,” she explained. “Every single week I learned more about myself, how we reacted when maybe I was a little bit tired or feeling more pressure. I learned a lot about myself every single week. My game has improved because of that.”
Henderson will be going home-home (to Smiths Falls) after the Manulife LPGA Classic for a short break prior to heading to The Evian Championship, where her hometown will host a celebration in her honor, which, she said, will help to motivate her through the final part of this season.
“It's always really exciting when people from back home or people from anywhere celebrate the success that I've had and that my family has had. So I think it will be a really cool day. I hear that all the kids are getting out of school for it. I'm sure there will be a pretty big crowd,” she said with a smile. “There's a lot of people when I was growing up that inspired me. If I can give back to them, that's really cool.”
Henderson’s quick success on the LPGA Tour hasn’t gone unnoticed by her fellow players, either.
“It’s been fun watching her. She’s a great young player. She’s going to be in this game for along time. She’s already had some great wins under her belt so it’s fun to see,” said defending Manulife LPGA Classic winner Suzann Petersen. “She’s a good face for the LPGA Tour.”
But while fellow LPGA Tour players are admiring her results in 2016, Henderson said she’s also thankful for the friendships she’s developed, especially with fellow Canadian Alena Sharp who is in the midst of her best-ever LPGA Tour season.
“We've become really good friends, especially over the last 18 months and again this year. We play a lot of practice rounds together. We always try to catch up at some point during the week,” explained Henderson. “I'm glad to see her doing well and hopefully it will continue.”
A few hours after Henderson arrived Tuesday, Sharp herself got to Whistle Bear with a whisper of support as compared to her young countrywoman. But as Sharp is only about an hour from her hometown, she’s confident the fan support will be there come Thursday.
“It's great for us because Canada golf fans are amazing, no matter where we are,” explained Sharp. “They're so supportive and they love to come out and watch. I don't think it's going to be any different this week.”
Sharp comes to the Manulife LPGA Classic off her best finish on the LPGA Tour, a fourth-place finish at the CP Canadian Women’s Open.
“I’m very excited and happy with my season, especially last week,” said Sharp. “I've just been working really hard, and it's nice to see the results come. I think before I was always pushing for results, and then I just let it happen, and it's been so much better.”
Sharp, who is a member at a course just 30 minutes from Whistle Bear, said she feels as motivated as ever thanks to watching Henderson’s fine play.
“Obviously seeing her do well, it inspires all of us, not just me but all of us Canadians, knowing that Brooke is doing it, why can't we? I think she's raised the bar, and she's positive, aggressive. I love being around her,” she said. “She has a very infectious attitude, and I think it's helped me kind of try and be an 18-year-old again and not be afraid of things and to go after it. I think it's been a really good friendship both ways.”
Sharp and Henderson are joined by 11 other Canadians in the field this week, as they look to become the first woman to win an LPGA on her home soil since Jocelyne Bourassa took the CP Canadian Women’s Open in 1973.