When she tees off on Thursday, Brooke Henderson says she won’t be thinking about the first-place cheque that will be awarded on Sunday.
But let’s face it – when you’re playing for $1.5 million, it’s hard not to have it in the back of your mind.
That’s what’s up for grabs at the CME Group Tour Championship, the season-ending tournament on the LPGA Tour with a purse of $5 million that will be contest by just 60 players.
“It's a great feeling just to know that all have to do is play four rounds of solid golf and you know you can walk away with a ginormous check, which is pretty cool,” said Henderson in her pre-tournament press conference. “But at the end of the day, it's just another golf tournament. You need to focus on what you're doing, try to stick to the process, and hopefully things line up and you can give it a run on Sunday.”
Henderson comes into the finale in second place on the CME points list. She earned that position on the strength of two victories and 12 top-10 finishes this year. That type of season has become almost commonplace for the Smiths Falls, Ont., golfer. She’s won nine times since turning professional five years ago and become one of the game’s top players.
“Honestly, the last five years have been a dream come true,” said the 22-year-old. “I never could have asked for any of this. I'm just so grateful for my team. We work really hard and set lofty goals and try to chase after them. I'm just grateful to be in this position, and it's been a lot of fun.
Henderson earned her eighth and ninth wins this year, pushing her past Mike Weir, Sandra Post and George Knudson for the most by a Canadian. It marked the fourth consecutive year she’s won twice.
Once again, she was prolific in the number of tournaments she played, teeing it up 26 events. While still a healthy number, it’s two fewer than the previous year. An early season illness kept her out of stops in Australia and she also skipped a few tournaments to be rested for big events.
“I feel like we were really strategic in the ones we took off in the summer leading into the majors,” Henderson stated. “We tried to make sure I was peaking. Even though it didn't work out as well as we would have liked, I feel like I had a really solid year this year. I feel like every year, my whole team, myself, we just keep getting smarter and better, and hopefully that trend can continue.”
While 2019 marked the first year she didn’t log a top-10 in a major, Henderson was still feeling positive about her game. She reached many of her goals, including lowering her scoring average.
“For me, a lot of process-oriented goals, so scoring average was a really big one for me, keeping it under 70. Usually when I do that, I put myself in contention a lot,” she said of the mark that was at 69.61 heading into this week.
This week’s tournament is almost a home game for Henderson. She has a condo about 30 minutes from the Tiburon GC in Naples, Fla., which is one of the few big purchases (other than a sea do) she’s made with the $6.3 million she’s collected in her brief career. When they’re shoveling snow in Smiths Falls, she’s hitting balls in the sunshine.
If she manages to come out on top and pick up the big haul, it will just continue her remarkable and still brief career.“I see my bank statements and it's kind of a nice feeling,” she smiled. “It's been a group effort. My parents have done so much. My sister, she works really hard. We've worked hard for this, but we had a lot of breaks and I'm just really grateful.”