The words of the Irish poet Oscar Wilde come to mind when thinking of Brooke Henderson: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” Henderson was her full self in Saturday’s final round of the HUGEL-AIR PREMIA LA Open and that was good enough to pick up her tenth LPGA Tour victory.
Already Canada’s greatest winner in professional golf at the age of 23, Henderson plays with a joyful fury that may not always be wise, but when it works – as it did when she erased a four-stroke deficit in the final round at HUGEL – it sure is fun to watch. In fact, it’s fun to watch even when it doesn’t work.
Gripping down on her 48-inch driver – sometimes from the fairway – and wailing away as if taking a slap shot from the blue line, the one-time hockey goalie clearly owns a dictionary that does not include the word “layup.” She doesn’t fit her game to the golf course but rather forces the golf course to fit her game.
She began Saturday’s final round at Wilshire Country Club – a strategic masterpiece four years older than the “Hollywood” sign high in the nearby hills constructed in 1923 to celebrate the emerging film industry in Los Angeles – four strokes behind Jessica Korda and three behind Rolex Rankings No. 1 Jin Young Ko.
But Henderson, paired in the final threesome with Korda and Ko, went out in 33 and capped an inward 34 with a tasty up-and-down par save on the final hole to finish at 16-under-par 268, one stroke ahead of Korda and two better than Ko and Hannah Green. That chip on No. 18 and her even better hole-out for birdie from the right of the 12th green showed there is way more to Henderson’s game than merely power.
In fact, her numbers for the week proved that. She hit 50 of 56 fairways – missing only one on Saturday – and 58 of 72 greens, 15 of 18 in the final round. Two of those three missed greens were the chip-in birdie on No. 12 and the up-and-down game-winner on No. 18.
Henderson has won in six of her seven seasons on the LPGA Tour, the only winless campaign being in 2020 when the pandemic restricted her to only ten starts. Four consecutive years – 2016-2019 – she won twice. Her ninth career victory at the 2019 Meijer Classic for Simply Give made her the winningest Canadian golfer in LPGA Tour and PGA Tour history, one ahead of Sandra Post, Mike Weir and George Knudson.
“I think as I age I'm getting more nerves,” Henderson said after her round with a shyness that belies the intensity with which she plays. “I was just really happy with how I went out today. I was a lot of shots back, but I just said to myself to keep the same game plan and try to make as many birdies as I could.”
That’s the attacking style in which Henderson is most comfortable. Even the way she holds the club – gripping down several inches – is Brooke being Brooke.
“I've actually done it since I started playing the game when I was like three or four years old,” she said. “Couple years ago, I thought maybe I would try to grip like a normal person at the end the grip and I just wasn't as, well, No. 1 comfortable, and No. 2, not as accurate. I think by choking up I do lose a little bit of distance with my irons, but I think I make up for it in consistency and accuracy and just overall being comfortable.”
And that is the key right there – just being comfortable in your own skin; just being herself.
Decades ago, there was a dynamic young guy making his way on the PGA Tour and some said he was too aggressive, that he needed to learn how to downshift under pressure and that he’d win more often if he became more of a strategic player.
Maybe Arnold Palmer would have won more than 62 times, including seven major championships, if he had changed his style of play. But maybe not. There are many components that go into the complicated formula that makes up being a champion and for Palmer passion was one.
Henderson is equally passionate, whether it is the way she swings the driver, expresses her devout Christian faith or appreciates the gifts that golf has given her.
“This game is incredible and it gives you so many great opportunities,” she said. “The friends that I've made and the places that I've been able to travel are really crazy. I'm really grateful that my parents got me into the game and that my sister and I have been able to share this journey together,” she said, referencing her caddie Brittany.
“It's really important to have fun in whatever you choose to do and have somebody that you can share the journey with, because it makes it that much more special,” Henderson said.
That’s Brooke being Brooke. After all, everyone else is taken. And she’s really good at being herself – a winner.