Brooke Henderson knew this day was coming. In fact, she’s been preparing for it for about the last eight months. And Thursday, it becomes real.
For the first time in her career, Henderson will be using a 46-inch driver and gripping it at the end of the club when she tees off in the year’s first major, the Chevron Championship.
It’s happening because the LPGA Tour is adopting a local rule created last year that limits the length of any club to 48 inches. The other major tours have already put it into the rule book.
Henderson has wielded the maximum-length club since she turned professional, winning most of her LPGA titles with it. But she never used all 48 inches. Instead, she gripped down on the club a few inches out of habit and comfort. It was a practice started when she was a child and used her sister Brittany’s clubs which were too long for her.
“It's definitely been a big process starting last year when the announcement kind of came out that there was going to be the rule change,” she said on Wednesday. “Went through a lot of different shafts and weights, et cetera, et cetera, but was able to, I guess early January late December, to pick one that I have in the bag this week that I felt was going to be the right club.”
Henderson admitted she’s likely going to need a few swings to adjust. The new driver will be the only club in the bag that she holds at the end.
The biggest effect of the change will likely mean losing a few yards on her tee shots. However, Henderson switched to a TaylorMade ball in the off-season that she feels may make up the distance.
To get the new conforming club, Henderson tested countless combinations of heads and shafts and grips. But ask her what she ended up with and it’s pretty clear she put her faith in the experts from PING.
“Other than it has a Ping head and the same shaft but shorter than my 48, that's pretty much all I know,” she said with a laugh.
The head and shaft are the same model as she had before but fitters added some extra weight inside the butt end to try and replicate the feel of the longer club.
Henderson is hoping the new club won’t be a distraction as she tries to maintain her brilliant start to the season. In five events, she’s finished inside the top 11 in all of them. Her short game, usually the weak part of her arsenal, has been strong so far, thanks to a lot of hard work over the off-season. She is third in putts per green in regulation and has the 20th-best putting average. A year ago, she was 60th and 111th in those categories.
“Short game I think is where I felt like I could really make the biggest difference in my game,” stated Henderson, “so spending a lot of time around greens and just kind of mentally my mindset was a big change as well.”
All of that will be needed if Henderson hopes to notch her second major championship. While she’s been a consistent winner on tour, she hasn’t won a major title since 2016. Her best shot at No. 2 came at this tournament two years ago when she lost in a playoff. She’s ready for another chance.
“I definitely look forward to it every year,” she said, “so hopefully this will be a good year, and I'm just excited for the opportunity.”