Anxiety is golf’s greatest enemy. You can always find a different reason for a slump if you look hard enough, something in the swing or stroke – the clubface is here or there; the plane is too this or too that – but the World Golf Hall of Fame is full of funky golf swings. On the other hand, there are mini-tour ranges around the world littered with people you’ve never heard of who have picture-perfect moves. The difference is confidence and mental freedom. How secure are you? How happy?
Brooke Henderson is happy again. Finally. Not that she was ever miserable. If you spent only a passing amount of time with her, the 24-year-old would have always come across as carefree and bubbly, living the dream with her sister by her side, playing the game she loved. What you didn’t see was the worry and anxiety bottled up inside, hidden like a secret diary under the mattress of a successful career.
For starters, COVID scared her. For the better part of a year, Henderson was cut off from most of her family, the people she’d had by her side for her entire life. She had five top-10s in 2020 but, for the time in her career, went an entire season without a win.
Then, she struggled with her putter. It wasn’t a technical issue. She had just heard she wasn’t a good putter often enough that she began to believe it. Henderson won once in 2021 at the DIO Implant LA Open and had five other top-10 finishes, but as great as that season seemed, the worry remained.
She entered last fall knowing that she had to change drivers. Henderson was the only woman of note that used a 48-inch driver. In 2022, the USGA put a stop to that. Henderson put the new, shorter club into play at this year’s Chevron Championship.
The struggles manifested with back-to-back missed cuts in Los Angeles, the first at Wilshire Country Club where she was defending champion, and the next in Palos Verdes. But something happened in those weekends away. Returning to Canada, she spent four of five weeks with family in the Great North ahead of the U.S. Women’s Open presented by ProMedica. The refreshing break in her homeland sparked memories of the six-footers she'd made instead of the ones she missed. And in an instant, the shorter driver no longer felt new and different.
Then she looked at the numbers – 7th in greens in regulation, 3rd in scoring average, 2nd in rounds in the 60s, 4th in rounds under par – and she realized that 2022 had the potential to be one of her best years yet.
On June 10, Henderson shot a closing 64 in New Jersey to win the Shoprite LPGA Classic presented by Acer. The next week she finished tied for 9th at the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give.
Now, happier than she has been in some time, Henderson is 7 under after the opening round of the Amundi Evian Championship, a course she knows well and one that requires the kind of imagination she mastered as a child.
“It's so beautiful here,” Henderson said, the sparkle in her eyes back after a long absence. “I love being in France and seeing the views of Lake Geneva and this golf course. It's so tricky and so challenging, but it's a lot of fun to play. Especially when you get on those birdie runs it can be a lot of fun.
“Getting off to a fast start at a major feels really good,” she said. “It's been a while since I've done that.”
It’s also been a while since we’ve seen Henderson so happy.
“Yeah, it feels nice,” she said of her round, but it could have been for so much more. “But lots can happen over the next three days. Hopefully just keep her going.”