With a brand-new LPGA Tour season officially underway, for some the hard work now begins. But for Brooke Henderson, it’s a time to celebrate.
The Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions gave players a chance to find out where their games stand to start the year, an evaluation point to determine what they’ll need to fine tune before the season gets into full swing. For Henderson, it was a chance to not only show off the state of her game but to set the standard by which the rest of the field would compare themselves. And the young Canadian set the bar quite high.
Like many competing at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club, Henderson came into the season opener not quite sure how her game would stack up in the winners-only field. She spent her off season rehabbing a back injury that sidelined her from practicing for weeks, had her wisdom teeth removed, and made a full equipment change in the weeks leading up to the first event of the year. Henderson had plenty of reasons to wonder about the state of her game, but she quickly answered those questions by going wire-to-wire to win the season opener for the first time in her career.
“Coming into this week I couldn't have asked for anything more. It was kind of the dream start, which is really exciting looking forward to the rest of 2023,” said Henderson on Sunday after finishing four strokes clear of the field. Maja Stark and Charley Hull, her closest competitors who finished in a share of runner up, came away from the week with plenty to think about.
“It gives me a lot of confidence,” Stark said about her solid start to the year. “Now I feel like -- I've had a good week with my driver and some good irons, and I know how to fix it -- kind of -- when something goes wrong. The putting, too. I feel like if it keeps going like this, could be the best year yet.”
“I haven't seen my coach in a few weeks, so coming into this week I didn't really know where my swing was at,” Hull said after the final round. “Now I know what to work on in my game.”
Nelly Korda spent the better part of the tour’s first event trying to chase down Henderson, with whom she played with in the final group on Sunday. But Korda was frustrated with her game for much of the week, particularly on the greens, and didn't adapt to her off-season equipment and ball change as quickly as Henderson.
“What's good is that I have a lot to work [on] and I'm very excited about it. I have four weeks to kind of grind and see where my game is,” Korda said on Sunday. “Obviously [I] want to peak around the majors. So it's good to see where my game is at and I have lots to work on.”
The world’s best will have a month to tweak their games before making the annual trip to Asia for a three-week stretch that includes stops at the Honda LPGA Thailand, the HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore, and the Blue Bay LPGA in the Republic of China. Then, the Tour returns to the United States for the LPGA Drive on Championship in Arizona followed by the DIO Implant LA Open in California.
While the best women in golf are getting back to work, Henderson is free to dream about what might be next. Happy with the state of her game, she will be focused on figuring out how to keep her momentum rolling in the weeks and months to come. Can the two-time major champion use this early season win as a springboard to take her career to the next level? Could she become world No. 1 for the first time in her career? Will there be a Rolex Player of the Year award awaiting her at the end of the season?
“Definitely the dreams start,” Henderson said about what might be possible in the months to come. “I think every year I try to get a little bit better, and hopefully this year I can just continue to make progress and steps, and at the end [of] the year if I'm in contention for some of those things, I'll be really happy.”
For Henderson and the world’s best, the hard work has just begun. And so has the LPGA Tour season.