CHASKA, MINNESOTA | For those who know, it was a typical scene. A slightly graying middle-aged man, still in a reasonably good shape, meandered down the driving range carrying a golf bag, looking for a spot for his player to hit some shots.
But many of the Minnesota fans at Hazeltine National on Wednesday didn’t know. “I thought Brooke’s sister caddied for her?” one fan murmured from just outside the fence behind the range. “What happened to Brittany?” a woman a few feet away asked in a thick Minnesota accent.
The answer to the latter was, “nothing.” Brittany Henderson, an exceptional player who gave up a career swinging clubs to carry them for her little sister Brooke, was waylaid. So, the girls’ father, Dave, who taught the game to both his daughters, picked up the slack so that Brooke could work through a couple of bags of balls before playing 9 final practice-round holes before the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. For those who know the Hendersons, this was standard procedure. Every task with them is a family affair. When someone needs a hand, they jump in without a second thought.
That doesn’t just apply to their immediate family, although the dynamic the Hendersons have is one of the healthiest on tour. They help friends, strangers…everyone. A retired school teacher, Dave has been Brooke’s only teacher. He, like his daughters and wife, Darlene, are unfailingly polite. Perfect Canadians. But they are more than that. They are a family of great faith, people who take the Christian edict of a servant’s heart as more than a suggestion. They live it every day.
Dave and Darlene are at tournaments to support their daughters – Dave on the driving range before almost every round his daughter plays - but they also sent the girls out on their own to live together in Florida when Brittany was 24 and Brooke was only 17.
As usual Dave is in Minnesota to help with Brooke’s swing and give an encouraging word, as she has been since she burst onto the scene as an amateur at the 2015 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship as an amateur. Deep into that weekend it appeared as though she might win. She finished tied for 5th. A year later, after a crisp Seattle rain, Brooke won her only major championship in an epic battle with Lydia Ko and Ariya Jutanugarn. Brooke stuffed a short iron and made a four-footer to beat Lydia in a playoff.
And last week, she went wire to wire, becoming a multiple winner on the LPGA Tour in 2019 (she won earlier in the spring at the Lotte Championship) and she also became the winningest Canadian golfer in history with 9 professional wins, surpassing Sandra Post, Mike Weir and George Knudson. Canadian amateur Marlene Streit is in the World Golf Hall of Fame as the only person ever to win the Australian, British, Canadian and U.S. Women’s Amateur championships. But few would argue that Brooke Henderson is the most successful Canadian golfer in history.
“It's so cool to keep the streak alive of two wins a year since 2016,” Brooke said. “The tour is so strong with so many talented players. That's really meaningful as well. Hopefully I can put myself in contention the rest of the summer and see if I can do it again.”
Don’t bet against her. Brooke is only 21 years old, two years younger than Stacy Lewis was when she turned pro. Of course anything can happen. But all leading indicators point to Henderson’s stock remaining a buy for some time. Much of that is due to her family and the values and principals good parents instill.
“Growing up from a young age, he was always there listening to us but also trying to make us the best people that we could be and also better golfers,” Brooke said of Dave’s influence in his daughters’ lives. “He always said if you work really hard going into something and try your best when you're in that championship, well, that's all you can really do. He actually defined that as success for us.
“So, when you think of it that way, it takes a lot of pressure off. If you're working really hard and then you try your best and do everything you can those four days and at the end of the day it doesn't work out, you can move on, learn from it and hopefully be better next time.
“Just knowing that he's always there supporting us and pushing us to be the best that we can be, but he also understands that golf is such a crazy game that even though you might do everything right, sometimes things don't work out. Knowing that he's patient like that and understands how hard the game is, that makes all the difference.”