Reminiscent of Ben Hogan, Henderson hopes similar strategy pays off
When the AIG Women’s British Open tees off at 6:30 am this Thursday morning at Royal Troon, a total of 144 competitors will be vying for the first major of the women’s golf season. This golf season, like so much of this calendar year, has been a season unlike any other in living memory. But, while the coronavirus situation and the suspension of play has ensured that this season is unlike any other, there is another factor that marks this one as different for Canadian Brooke Henderson. It marks a difference in Henderson’s strategy towards major tournaments.
In years prior, Henderson was noted, among other things, for having played a tremendous number of events from 2016 through to last season. In 2016, she played a career high of 31 events, with last season representing her lowest at 27 events (notwithstanding her “rookie” season ).
Never before has Henderson been away from tournament golf this long before playing in a major championship. Given her propensity for such a busy schedule, it is probably fair to say that this will be the longest period of competitive inactivity since her amateur days. One of the criticisms of Henderson before was that she was playing too much; she was not taking advantage of a reduced schedule so that she could be prepared for major events.
Regardless, along with her 8 other LPGA wins, Henderson has 1 major championship to her credit, having won the 2016 KPMG PGA Championship at Sahalee G.C. near Seattle, Washington. She prevailed after staring down the formidable Lydia Ko in a one hole playoff. This was Lydia Ko at the height of her 85 weeks as the Number One player in the world.
Despite that thrilling victory at Sahalee, Henderson has not been able to replicate that feat at another major. Though many in golf circles still regard the Canadian Women’s Open as one of golf’s informal majors for women, Henderson’s win in 2018 CP Canadian Women's Open, has been the closest event to a major since Sahalee.
The criticism for Henderson is that having played such a busy schedule for much of her young professional career, she has denied herself the opportunity to better prepare herself for these major tournaments. Yet, there was a certain logic to her strategy early on in that she stated that she wanted to play as many of the LPGA events as possible so as to familiarize herself with the courses as well as the logistics of travel, practice and more.
Now, as the "winning-est" Canadian in top tier professional golf, Henderson is at a stage in her career where she should be focusing on winning majors. She has the skill, experience, and the drive to be one of the most dominant players in women’s golf, and winning major championships is a big part of achieving that. This is not about legacy building, it is much more than that; but it is about achieving personal satisfaction of putting forth one’s efforts and being successful for it.
For 2020, unlike many other tops players, Henderson did not return to competitive golf at the first opportunity. While many of her LPGA colleagues were playing on the KLPGA (Korean tour), the JLPGA (Japan) or other events, Henderson skipped the first two rebooted events in the United States. She also bypassed last week’s Scottish Women’s Open, in favour of arriving early to play Royal Troon and acclimate herself to the course, the community and all that goes with it.
It will most assuredly provide her with the opportunity to empty her mind of outside distractions, concentrating on the course, the type of shots it requires to score well, learning the weather patterns and how they provide Troon with its links style defence. She will have learned the greens and their nuances, where to land her approach shots, when to play a low shot and when to play a flighted ball into the greens such as Royal Troon’s famed “postage stamp” 8th hole. The work put in by both Brooke and her sister - caddie, Brittany could prove to be invaluable on the weekend.
In fact, this is the first time that we can recall where Henderson has taken her preparation to this level. It is heartening to see and is reminiscent of the legendary Ben Hogan, with his methodical preparation for major tournaments. It was never more evident than when he travelled to Scotland to prepare for his only appearance at the Open Championship hosted by Carnoustie in 1953. It was an approach that Hogan adopted in light of his near fatal car accident in 1949. The accident left him physically unable to walk for extended periods of time, so he adopted a schedule that left him playing only major tournaments and a few others. His success in majors influenced others to follow his approach, most notably Jack Nicklaus.
The remainder of this week will be the true test of whether Henderson’s strategy pays off for her. She is accustomed to being in “the hunt” for victory, but we shall see if this type of preparation is what helps propel her to victory this week, ending with her hoisting the trophy on Sunday. She starts off her tournament by playing the first two rounds with the 2019 defending champion Hinako Shibuno ( dubbed the smiling Cinderella last season) and South Africa’s Ashley Buhai.
Their Thursday tee time is set for 12:49 pm local time while Friday’s is 8:09 am and the local weather forecast is indicating that weather conditions will be a factor, though the Thursday afternoon and Friday morning times should see the best weather for Rounds One and Two.
Brooke Henderson’s girl next door smile and demeanour belies the fierce competitor that she is — she has demonstrated that she can shift her game into a higher gear when she is in the hunt to win.
She has made some mistakes before, but she is smart enough to learn from them and to know that she is more apt to be successful by keeping her “foot on the gas” rather than playing too safe or too conservatively. Some call it the “killer instinct”; others say that it is merely being prepared.
We are looking forward to seeing how this event unfold this week at Royal Troon.
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