Canadian superstar Brooke Henderson opened the 2023 LPGA Tour season with a first-round 67 at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club, leading the 29-player field at -5 heading into day two of the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions. Playing alongside celebrity participants John Smoltz and Josh Donaldson, Henderson sank three birdies on the front and three more on the back, with her only blemish on the scorecard a bogey on 17. She recovered immediately though, ending her first round back since November on Tour with an impressive 15-foot putt for birdie on the final hole.
“It does feel really good, and to get off to a hot start, that's always a great feeling. Hopefully I can continue it the next three days, a lot of momentum, and lots of birdies,” said Henderson. “You really need to go low here if the conditions are going to stay as nice as they are.”
Currently No. 7 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, Henderson battled a back injury during the final events of the 2022 season, resulting in a “strange” off season, as she described it. But it seems the 12-time LPGA Tour winner and two-time major champion has returned to full form for her 2023 debut.
“I had to take a lot of time off to heal my back, so it was really weird not practicing for a while. Then even after resting for two weeks after that, I still couldn't swing full. I was just chipping and putting,” she explained “It was just like slow progress, being patient and then building up to where now I can take full swings and things. It was a big off-season in terms of lots of things happening, but right now it looks like everything paid off well, and hopefully just keep it going.”
Henderson finished second behind Danielle Kang at last year’s #HGVLPGA thanks to her consistent performance off the tee and on her approach. According to the KPMG Performance Insights, Henderson ranked fourth in strokes gained both off the tee and approach to the green. She also ranked 12th in strokes gained around the green and fifth in strokes gained putting. Looking to improve on last year’s performance, Henderson will rely on a new set up of equipment courtesy of TaylorMade. The 25-year-old announced a new partnership with the equipment brand on Wednesday.
“All the clubs worked really well today, which is great, and to shoot 5-under to start the season off feels really good… I've been really excited to join Team TaylorMade,” she said. “The clubs are awesome, and I feel like I was able to make a bunch of putts today, which is a really great feeling. A couple to save par and some for birdie, and it really kept my round going.”
Rolex Rankings World No. 2 Nelly Korda also joined the TaylorMade team this week and saw the benefit of the equipment change on Thursday, shooting a four-under 68 to sit in solo second after round one. The 24-year- old started the round off with two birdies on holes 2 and 3, but lost a stroke with a bogey on 4. After the turn, she earned three more birdies on 11, 14 and 17. Though she always wants to win, Korda said she was less focused on competing today and more focused on feeling out her new clubs and enjoying the round with good friend World Series Champion Derek Lowe and General Hospital star Jack Wagner.
“This week I'm taking it as a feeler, seeing where I need to dial into it a little bit more, maybe tweak some things, but overall I was extremely happy with the way my clubs were flying,” Korda said. “It was just the whole day was really fun… I did joke with (Lowe) at one point where I was like, ‘okay, 100 bucks if you hit it inside of me,’ and he didn't hit the green, and I was like, ‘cha-ching.’”
Tied for third behind Henderson and Korda are 2022 LPGA Tour winners Gemma Dryburgh and Charley Hull, major champion Ashleigh Buhai and 2021 champion Wei-Ling Hsu. Defending champion Kang sits in a tie for ninth after shooting a one-under 71 in the opening round. Leading the celebrity field, who are using Stableford scoring, is the LPGA Tour’s winningest golfer Annika Sorenstam with 39 points, followed by American tennis star Mardy Fish (37) and Lowe (34).