By sheer coincidence, I’ll be driving through Smiths Falls today, on my way to Ottawa for a non-golf related project. I will drive slowly through town, enjoying what I’m sure will be wall-to-wall smiles, and people walking with a spring in their step. The population of Smiths Falls is roughly 9,000 people, and I can’t imagine anywhere on earth right now that has 9,000 people so proud and so happy for one of their own. And if for some weird reason you’re not aware of whom I speak, the next sentence will give you a good clue.
Brooke Henderson’s victory in the KPMG U.S. Women’s PGA Championship this past Sunday simply has to be regarded as the greatest competitive round of golf ever played by a Canadian, given the circumstances.
Maybe I should qualify that by saying “in the last 50 years”, because my detailed knowledge of golf history doesn’t include a shot-by-shot recollection of George S. Lyon’s Olympic victory in 1904, or Sandy Somerville’s win in the 1932 U.S. Amateur, or any of Marlene Streit’s numerous amateur wins, Gary Cowan’s two U.S. Amateur victories, or Sandra Post’s milestone playoff victory over Kathy Whitworth in the Women’s PGA in 1968. Or Mike Weir’s orgasmic Masters win in 2003. I’m sure they were all tremendous performances.
But for Brooke to start Sunday’s round two shots behind the World’s No. 1-ranked player, fire a breath-taking 65 with three long and absolutely clutch putts on the back nine, knowing that Lydia Ko was playing equally well behind her, is astounding. And then to smack a laser-like 7-iron to three feet on the playoff hole, knowing Lydia was already on the green, is… I dunno, I’ve run out of superlatives…
Let’s say, otherworldly.
I’m proud to say I’ve been watching Brooke and writing about her for three years. In a story I wrote for the Toronto Star a couple of years ago, I quoted Lorie Kane as saying (fairly obviously, by then) that “the sky’s the limit” for Brooke’s future. Journalistic detachment be damned, I’m not ashamed to say I posted a photo of myself with Brooke on my Facebook page on Monday. Safe to say, I’m a BIG fan.
Aside from her physical talent, though, I’m incredibly impressed with Brooke’s performance off the course. I’ve interviewed or chatted with her three or four times, and I’ve been more impressed each time with her charm, good manners, and thoughtful answers.
Having finished in the Top Ten of ten LPGA tournaments this year, Brooke has appeared on TV for post-game stand-ups, and news conferences, quite regularly. As far as I’m concerned, she outshines all her peers in these situations. Her answers are becoming a bit mechanical, but then the questions she faces are so repetitive from week to week. However, she transcends the banality of it all with a million-watt smile, a projection of humility and contrition that doesn’t seem the least bit phony (i.e., indicating how lucky she feels to be there, as if her talent had nothing to do with it), a willingness to speak, and an understanding that media relations are critical to her popularity with fans, and to the public relations of the LPGA Tour.
Given that few American players are contending each week, and that Asian players are dominating the Ladies Tour, Brooke must be viewed by the executives of the LPGA as an incredible asset. Nothing against the Asians – indeed, I’ve offered sincere compliments to them in this space in the past, for their fantastic efforts at learning the language and improving their media skills – but there’s little argument that many of them are just naturally quiet, deferential, and shy. It’s tough to get much “media” out of them.
Brooke, on the other hand, must seem like the modern-day equivalent of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm… a pretty, charming, natural, nice, modest yet outgoing player of awesome talent, and all the more appealing considering her unlikely origins in sleepy little Somewhere in Canada.
Brooke’s natural media presence could be a model for most other professional golfers, too – male or female. Having done a lot of media training of corporate executives in my career, I’ve often thought that I would’ve loved to have been hired by professional sports leagues – not just golf, but yes, golf tours for sure – to teach men and women players how to act in public. Not just answering media questions, but what to say at trophy presentations, when they win and when they lose… what to say in public situations… when meeting fans at an airport lounge, etc.
To most players, “personal public relations” does not come easily or naturally, and from what I can tell, 99% of them don’t make an effort at it, don’t care, and don’t think it’s important. They let their clubs do the talking, and that’s fine, until they use their mouths to talk, and then it can be painful to hear.
But not Brooke. To her, it seems to be just another God-given talent, and one that should make all of us Canadians as proud as her shot-making does.