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Henderson hoping to peak at year's second major

Brooke Henderson Brooke Henderson - The Canadian Press

When it comes to golf, Brooke Henderson is definitely a glass half-full type of person. Despite an up-and-down season that has seen a mixed bag of results, the Canadian star is looking forward to contending at this week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

“I feel like starting off the year on such a high has been a little bit down the last few months,” she said, “but I feel like the game is right around the corner, and just staying patient to see the results.”

Some perspective is needed here. It’s not as if Henderson has been missing lots of cuts and shooting 80s. She began 2023 by winning the season-opening tournament, the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions, her 13th career victory.

Since then, her play has been mediocre, but only by her lofty standards. She’s missed the cut in two of her 10 starts and has failed to register another top 10 since her win. For most golfers, it would still be a decent year, but not Henderson.

Since 2016, she has averaged eight top-10 finishes per year, including 10 last season. So far this year, she’s had more finishes in the 40s than in the top 10.

But she’s still hitting great shots and sinking a lot of putts.

“I'm still making a lot of cuts and stuff, so I'm still making a living out here, which is good,” she said. “Just not maybe up to my standards or my goals. I wouldn't say it's been a terrible year so far. Starting out with a win was great. I've had some top 20s and top 30s. It's been all right. It's just I would prefer to be in contention a little bit more on the weekends. But it's not far away. I think over the next few weeks, it'll start to get back to where it should be.”

This week would be a good one to find her groove. The second major championship of the season takes place at Baltusrol Golf Club, the famed New Jersey course that has hosted men’s majors won by the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Phil Mickelson. It recently received a facelift at the hands of Gil Hanse, who also touched up the Los Angeles Country Club, site of last week’s U.S. Open.

Henderson has been preparing under the watchful eye of her father, Dave, who serves as her coach, and sister, Brittany, who caddies. As they have done for a long time, the trio puts together a strategy of how to attack each hole.

The course will play long by LPGA standards, topping out at just over 6,800 yards. That includes the unusual finish with back-to-back par 5s, something the long-hitting Henderson is relishing.

The start is no piece of cake either. The first hole is a 440-yard par 4 that won’t see a lot of birdies this week. The next five holes are also demanding with the first chance for a player to catch her breath coming at the seventh.

Rather than fear the course, Henderson is excited for the opportunity of taking it on.

“I love major championships,” she stated with enthusiasm. “They're very challenging, and you have to play smart, and when the opportunity is there, then you can play a little bit aggressive. I feel like that suits my game really well.”

Henderson has a strong record in the five women’s majors. Since 2020, she has more rounds in the 60s than any other player. The KPMG PGA is where she has really excelled, winning in 2016 , finishing runner-up the next year and logging top 10s on three other occasions.

With two of her 13 victories being major titles, Henderson is pleased but far from satisfied with her results so far. She knows that these five events are where history is made.

“Your career is kind of defined by how many majors you win or if you're a major champion,” she stated. “I was really fortunate that I was able to get my first major victory when I was really young, so I kind of avoided a lot of those questions of when I was going to win my first one. Then for a while I had, when are you going to win your second one, which took a while. Six years, which is a long time. But I'm looking forward to the next opportunity I have to be in contention and in those final groups because it's such an amazing feeling, especially in a major where there's more pressure and more eyes on you. It's exciting to have that opportunity.”

That’s the mindset that wins majors. Rather than fear the task, it’s to embrace it. Henderson does that as well as any LPGA Tour player. She is mentally strong. What she needs now is to have her game peak at the same time.

A win this week would certainly wash away any thoughts of this being an up-and-down season for Henderson. There’s nothing but upside with a major victory.