On and off the course, 2020 was a juggling act for Brooke Henderson

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Brooke Henderson, of Canada, stands on the green during a practice round at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at the Aronimink Golf Club, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in Newtown Square, Pa. (Chris Szagola/AP)

Brooke Henderson is undeniably a woman of many talents. But when she returned home to Canada during a long break this fall, she decided it was time to do something new – so she learned to juggle.

Henderson talked to a former teacher of hers at Smiths Falls District Collegiate Institute who was getting her gym class to do it, so the 23-year-old got the same videos the students did, and she put in the work. Henderson then posted a video of herself juggling on social media that has since amassed more than 40,000 views.

“I learned,” Henderson told Sportsnet with a laugh, “and I was really happy that I did.”

While 2020 was a year unlike any other for so many – including for Canada’s winningest golfer on either the LPGA or PGA Tour – Henderson learned to juggle in more ways than one these last 12 months.

“In a crazy, uncertain year, I feel like my golf game has been in a really good spot. I classify my season as a success,” said Henderson, who finished the year ranked sixth in the world. “I didn’t know how much I was going to play or if I was even going to play or be comfortable out here when I was back home in Canada during the summer.

“So, I’m just happy that … I made the choice to come back out on Tour, and grateful for the LPGA for all they’ve done to allow this to happen and relatively safely.”

2020 marked the first time in five seasons Henderson hasn’t found the winner’s circle on the LPGA Tour (she won once in 2015 and then twice in all of 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019) but she got pretty close. She had six top-10 finishes in just 10 tournaments and earned over $648,000 this season. In the process, she passed Lorie Kane as Canada’s top money-earner in LPGA Tour history.

Henderson’s closest brush with victory came at September’s ANA Inspiration, the second major championship of the 2020 LPGA Tour season, where she lost in a playoff. Henderson put a bow on the year with a T7 at the CME Group Tour Championship, which wrapped up Sunday.

She had a tough start to the final round, going 3-over for her first nine holes. But she battled back with four-straight birdies on the back nine and added a long birdie on her final hole of 2020.

“I didn’t get off to the start that I was looking for. I had a rough start on Thursday too, but I felt like I got things sort of under control and it was nice to get two really good rounds and back to what felt like my normal self,” Henderson told Sportsnet Sunday night. “But I was really happy with another top-10, and overall, really happy with how the season went.”

Henderson got out of the gate quickly in January, finishing T4 and T15 in her first two events. But due to COVID-19, Henderson did not tee it up again until August, her longest break between tournaments since she was in middle school.

Her first event back was the AIG Women’s Open in Scotland, where she missed the cut – chalking it up to the uncertainty around the new protocols. Likely, too, it was a less-than-ideal place to begin her return having spent her summer months hitting balls at home or playing some of the courses around Smiths Falls, Ont., which are not anything like the storied Royal Troon, where the Women’s Open was played.

Henderson then went on a heater through the end of the summer before taking another long break back at home, when she learned to juggle. She struggled at the U.S. Women’s Open in mid-December, but was back, like she said, to her “normal” self last week in Naples, Fla. She has a home not far from where they play the CME Group Tour Championship. The ability for her to sleep in her own bed for the season finale was an idyllic way to end an otherwise strange and taxing year.

“Just getting off the plane on Monday night, I was so grateful to be back here in southwest Florida,” Henderson said early last week following a chilly U.S. Women’s Open in Texas. “Just feels like home.”

Off the golf course, we don’t usually see much of Henderson’s private life. But it was inevitable to come to light a little more in 2020 with the golf world starved for content during the long breaks between play.

Despite the goings on in the world this year, Henderson did manage to celebrate a few of life’s big milestones. She virtually attended the wedding of fellow Canadian LPGA Tour golfer Alena Sharp, for example. Henderson’s fellow Olympian tied the knot with her longtime partner, and caddie, Sarah Bowman at a ceremony at their home in Arizona.

“Sarah has been a great addition to Alena’s life and vice versa. It’s pretty cool to see them work together on the course and then being great friends and great partners off the course as well,” Henderson said.

Henderson’s sister (and caddie), Brittany, also got married. She wed Zach Sepanik – who works for the LPGA Tour – at a small ceremony at the Sepanik family home in Michigan. Henderson attended that virtually as well, with an in-person ceremony planned for when COVID is long in the rear view.

Henderson’s friend, Jin Young Ko, even gave her a special shoutout when Ko returned to action this fall after spending the whole of 2020 in her native South Korea.

“Brooke Henderson… But I miss to meet her a lot – I couldn’t see her yesterday, so I want to see her. But I can’t hug. It’s sad,” said Ko in November. “She’s number one.”

Ko, however, is the golfer actually ranked No. 1 in the world, a ranking that increased even more after her five-shot victory over the weekend at the CME Group Tour Championship.

“If I didn’t win,” said Henderson, “I was happy to see Jin Young win.”

Henderson will have a little work to do in 2021 if she wants to catch up to Ko.

Henderson’s scoring average was ranked second on tour this year, and her driving and ball striking were both ranked in the top 10. Her putting, however, was ranked outside the top 100. She knows that’s an area she’ll work on this off-season as she tries to nail down a schedule for 2021.

For now, the LPGA Tour is set to return to all of the events next year that were cancelled for 2020 – including the CP Women’s Open in late August in Vancouver – but with the uncertainty still lingering around the global impact of COVID-19, she’s unsure of what her own schedule will look like, especially for someone who usually plays upwards of 30 times per season.

“It was kind of nice for a change actually, and I think I can use that in the future,” said Henderson of not playing so much in 2020. “I sort of learned how I can practice and prepare for each event and what works when I have those breaks, so that’s exciting to know what works in the future, so maybe I don’t have to play as many events as I have the last few years.”

So, between getting even better on the course, continuing to celebrate those important interpersonal relationships off the course, and all-the-while travelling and remaining safe from the virus that’s caused a global pandemic, 2021 is shaping up to be a year that can only described in one way: a juggling act.

At least Henderson has now become prolific at that.

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