AURORA, Ont. – Brooke Henderson is the star of the show this week at Magna Golf Club – and that’d be the case even if she wasn’t the defending champion of the CP Women’s Open.
Little girls are dressing like her, selfies are being asked taken and autographs are being signed at a rapid clip. With star responsibilities come star expectations.
But Henderson is ready to live up to them this week as she tries to win her national open for the second time.
After an emotionally draining summer in 2018 when she lost both grandparents, Henderson won the CP Women’s Open by four shots over Angel Yin at Wascana Country Club in Regina, Sask.
In the process, she became the first Canadian to win her national open on the LPGA Tour in 45 years.
"To have won the CP Women’s Open last year," Henderson said, "is probably the highlight of my career so far."
This season, Henderson has continued her streak of winning two times on the LPGA Tour – a feat she’s achieved every year since 2016. She defended her title at the LOTTE Championship in Hawaii in April, and then in June she won the Meijer LPGA Classic for her ninth LPGA Tour victory.
"Before I got on the LPGA Tour, I just wanted to become a member," she said from Magna Golf Club, 30 minutes north of Toronto. "Then I wanted to win, and then now, just a few years later, I have nine wins, which is pretty incredible."
At 21, she’s already Canada’s winningest golfer on both the LPGA and PGA Tour.
Although she had a bit of an odd start to 2019 – she was sick and missed two events in Australia – she’s bounced back well since then, with eight top-10 finishes, including the two wins.
If there was any knock on her results in 2019, it’s how she played at the majors.
For the first time in her career, Henderson did not register a top-15 result at any of the big five on the LPGA Tour.
She said she was close in all of them, but was missing one special round that would have moved her up the leaderboard.
"I think learning from those experiences this year is just to be a little bit more patient. I was maybe trying to push a little too hard when I realized that I wasn’t in the top-10 or -20," she admitted. "I was pushing, and I feel like you have to be patient and let things come to you in major championships a little bit."
While her results at majors may have been subpar – at least by her standards – she will still have the biggest following of anyone this week. Tournament director Ryan Paul said pre-tournament ticket sales have already outpaced last year in Regina, and while she said Canadian fans are always out on the LPGA Tour, this week will be extra special.
The course is only three hours from her hometown of Smiths Falls, Ont., and Henderson’s mother, Darlene, told Sportsnet that she’s heard of lots of people who are going to drive down Highway 401 to see her daughter try to defend her title.
The crowd will be very pro-Henderson – along with the other 14 Canadians in the field.
Georgia Hall, who won last year’s AIG Women’s British Open in her home country of England, said it will be “incredible” to see the kind of support Henderson will get this week.
"I think it’s great to have friends and family to give you that extra boost," Hall told Sportsnet. "She’s going to get a lot of support. I played with (Henderson) when I defended the British a couple of weeks ago and she’s a great player. I’m sure she’ll be fine this week."
But for all the praise from her fellow pros, Henderson still has to beat them all this week at a golf course that, while sets up well for her game (it’s wide open off the tee and is playing a little on the softer side, which means bombs away), will also challenge the only part of her game she’s struggling with since turning pro – her putting.
Henderson tends to run hot and cold with her putter, and she said the golf course, while in good condition, would be a tough test on the greens.
"I think it would easy to have some long putts around here, and I don’t think you really want that with the slopes and some other things happening. There are a lot of false fronts as well," she said. "So just being really careful and precise and make sure you’re landing over those and giving yourself good looks at birdies."
Henderson knows what needs to be done to contend this week, and she comes into the CP Women’s Open after having not played the last two weeks. She spent time at her family cottage and then began practising again last week to get ready.
Winning a professional golf tournament is hard, winning your national open is harder. And to defend it might be even harder, but Henderson said she’s up for the challenge after a nice long rest (for her).
"To win the CP Women’s Open last year was incredible," she said. "Do I think I’m going to do it again this year? I’m going to give it all I have, my best shot."