Happy as I was for Jason Day’s PGA victory over the weekend, I was even more thrilled that Brooke Henderson won this past weekend’s LPGA event in Portland, Oregon… her first LPGA win… with a near annihilation of the rest of the field! Waytago, Brooke!!
(I’d also like to commend the Globe and Mail for finally noticing this story by Monday morning. There was no coverage prior to that, from Canada’s national newspaper.)
This young lady, the pride of Smiths Falls, ON, has now met and surpassed everyone’s expectations, and, with this win, gets exempt status on the LPGA Tour for 2016. For at least three years, I’ve been talking to everyone I know, ad nauseam, about Brooke… not only what an incredibly talented golfer she is, but also the kind of young lady you’d want as your daughter or granddaughter. Modest, shy, self-effacing, polite, patient, articulate, wise, and just plain nice… all of which are hard characteristics to have and maintain when you’re 17, and being told you’re a superstar about a dozen times a day.
About fourteen months ago, at the Manulife Classic LPGA event in Waterloo, ON, I was putting together a story for the Toronto Star on Brooke. I had a nice chat with Lorie Kane, who probably wasn’t in the mood for talking after a round of 78 or something. Nonetheless, Lorie spoke glowingly about Brooke, and said to me “the sky’s the limit” for Brooke’s future. That was the headline on the story that appeared the next day.
Because she had been a bit of a teenage phenomenon herself, I decided to talk to American star player Cristie Kerr. Ms. Kerr has a reputation for being somewhat prickly, so I poured on some extra Deeks charm. Didn’t work. I asked her if I could have 30 seconds of her time as she left the scoring tent.
“Thirty seconds,” she said, in the tone of “that’s all you get.”
“I just wanted to ask you about Brooke Henderson,” I said.
“I have no idea who that is,” Cristie replied, as in “why the f@#$ are you wasting my time?”
“Well,” said I, “she’s the reigning Canadian amateur champion, she’s won two professional events in Canada, she’s…” At this point, Kerr gives me a rotating hand motion, as in “yeah, yeah, I don’t care, speed it up.”
Affronted by this unbelievable rudeness, I explained that I was asking her about Brooke because she – Cristie — had been somewhat of a teenage phenom herself. She perked up about 3% at this, and proceeded to tell me how good she had been as a kid, and what exceptional school grades she had had, as in “I may have been the greatest teen golfer ever.”
“So,” I said, “what advice would you give someone like Brooke?”
“I dunno,” she said, walking away. “Work hard maybe?”
Thanks, Crustie. Clearly the one endeavour you didn’t excel at was human relations, or media training.
I mention this story because I have talked to Brooke now four or five times. She impresses me more each time, with her manners, attitude and patience… the polar opposite of her would-be role model, Ms. Kerr.
I asked her recently whether she had done formal media training. “What’s that?” she replied, genuinely unaware of the term.
Brooke, who won’t turn 18 for another three weeks or so, managed to enter the field for Portland through a Monday qualifier, then proceeded to blow away the competition, taking a five-shot lead into Sunday’s final round. (She had been in the Saturday-night lead position before, but this time, nerves didn’t get to her and she sealed the deal with a conservative 69 on Sunday, and an 8-shot victory. And, incidentally, 11 shots better than Cristie Kerr, who hopefully knows who Brooke is, now.)
Now that she’s won the right to play every week, Brooke may well become the pretty poster girl the LPGA’s been hoping for. Michelle Wie just hasn’t lived up to all her teenage hype; Lexi Thompson, Paula Creamer, and Morgan Pressel haven’t been the dominating forces they were expected to be, and others, like Stacy Lewis or the irascible Ms. Crustie, just don’t seem to want the spotlight.
Meanwhile, the LPGA Tour is currently dominated by a raft of excellent Asian players, and as personable and accommodating with fans and the media as they are, they just don’t spark the public’s interest, or sell a lot of tickets.
If Brooke Henderson can maintain her momentum, on the other hand, and emerge as a genuine superstar, she could become the game changer for the LPGA Tour – not to mention, one of the best sports stories to come out of Canada since Sidney Crosbie.