Although Brooke Henderson is a Canadian through and through, these days she spends most of her time at a second home in Florida, working on her game. So perhaps it wasn’t a surprise that when she arrived home in Smiths Falls, Ont., for Christmas, she got a little northern welcome.
“It was so cold,” she laughed. “I wasn’t used to it.”
Despite the chilly temperatures and the 14-day quarantine, Henderson was able to enjoy a holiday break with family and friends. Now it’s back to work as the LPGA Tour kicks off its 2021 season this week with the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions.
“I’m excited to start this year,” said Henderson. “I felt like last year I played well, especially the last half of the season.”
Indeed she did. The 23-year-old played 10 events and finished inside the top 10 in six of them. That pushed her career total in that category to 54.
Although she didn’t log a victory for the first time in five seasons, she did have strong results in two majors. She lost in a playoff at the ANA Inspiration and played in the final group on Sunday at the KPMG PGA Championship before ending up in sixth spot.
She also pushed her career earnings to $7,147,451, passing Lorie Kane on the career money list as the top Canadian.
It was, of course, also a very different year with a limited schedule and numerous protocols in place to ensure safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Henderson was among the most cautious players, skipping a number of tournaments to ensure her well-being and that of her sister and caddie, Brittany. Heading into this year, the nasal swabs and wearing of masks will seem somewhat more familiar.
“I feel having like last year, having gone through all the protocols, I know what to expect a little more this year,” Henderson stated. “I feel like Brit and I are a little bit more prepared for all the extra things we have to do, on and off the course.”
Off the course, Henderson’s game once again relied on its strengths – off the tee and into the greens. She was eighth in driving distance and second in greens in regulation.
But she battled her short game, finishing 104th in putting average and 128th in sand saves, both the lowest ranking of her career. The brief off-season has been spent working on those weaknesses and trying to build a more complete game.
“I figured out a few things late in the season last year that seem to be clicking, got my game a little bit more consistent,” she stated. “I was getting a lot of top 10s which felt really great, so hopefully moving forward I’ll just continue on that consistency streak and hopefully get another win this year.”
The putter has been the most inconsistent club in Henderson’s bag and at times has led her to frustration. To try to avert that in 2021, she and her sister have spent some time in the off-season trying to improve green reading to give her more opportunity to sink putts.
“I’m just working on little things all the time and just try to make small improvements and hopefully the end game will be big and see better results on the course,” said Henderson.
As opposed to last year, the Smiths Falls, Ont., product is planning a more robust schedule, although she will still be cautious and keep her eyes on the rollout of vaccines.
Her plans do include all five majors, the CP Canadian Women’s Open and the Olympics. It’s that last event that will bring the biggest test on the largest of stages. Having had a taste of the Olympics in 2016, she’ll head to Tokyo with her eyes open.
“You really have to be prepared for that and I think it was a big eye-opening experience for Brit and I,” Henderson reflected on the last Games. “Just knowing what to expect when you’re in an Olympic village surrounded by all these different athletes from all these different sports. It’s not just about golf. Having been there in 2016, we’ll just be a little bit more prepared, and hopefully we can come away with a medal.”
She’ll get the season started on Thursday at the Diamond Resorts tournament, where she’s finished tied for fourth and tied for sixth the last two years. A fast start would be more than welcome.