Scott Stinson: Brooke Henderson, Canada’s quiet superstar, begins another LPGA season with a win

Despite her success — including her 13th victory on Tour this weekend — she hasn’t quite got her due, begging the question: Is Henderson the country’s most under-appreciated superstar?

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Brooke Henderson is not a big talker, but a statement she issued last November raised some concerns.

She withdrew from the Pelican Women’s Championship, citing a back injury, and said she would “recover fully in the off-season.” Simple enough, but also worrisome. Golfers and back injuries are as bad a pairing as steak and Chardonnay. Would this be the thing to derail the still-young Canadian’s stellar career?

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About that: Never mind.

Henderson, 25, rolled to victory at the LPGA’s season-opening Tournament of Champions in Florida on the weekend, leading from start to finish for her 13th victory on Tour. Every time she wins, she adds to her record total for a Canadian on the LPGA or PGA Tours, having caught and passed the luminary trio of Mike Weir, Sandra Post and George Knudson (eight wins each) in 2019.

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At the very beginning of her ninth professional season, she’s already continued a streak of winning at least once per year, a run that began before she was even a member of the LPGA Tour — her eight-stroke victory at Portland in 2015 as a 17-year-old resulted in the Tour exempting her from its age limit and granting her membership.

The win in Florida doesn’t just assuage injury concerns and answer questions over whether an equipment switch would derail her remarkable consistency, it also raises a different question: Is Brooke Henderson the country’s most under-appreciated superstar?

Yes, that is a subjective thing I just made up that has no definitive answer, but consider the resume: Those 13 LPGA wins include two majors, the 2016 LPGA Championship and last summer’s Evian Championship. She won the CP Women’s Open in 2018, becoming the first Canadian to win on home soil in 45 years. She’s had four seasons with multiple wins, and would make it five if she wins another tournament in 2023. Lorie Kane had multiple wins in a season once. Sandra Post had two such seasons. Mike Weir had just one such PGA season, his 2003 Masters-winning year in which he also had two other victories. Henderson just keeps stacking up wins, even in relative off years.

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And yet, she’s done all that relatively quietly. Weir’s Masters win, still the biggest moment in Canadian golf due to the stage and the tournament’s place in the sport, helped create a whole Weir industry that included a clothing line and a winery. Henderson has her sponsors and endorsements, but a casual Canadian sports viewer in recent years would be much more likely to see tennis players Bianca Andreescu and Leylah Fernandez as part of high-profile commercial campaigns.

When a panel of journalists voted on the Northern Star Award last month — formerly the Lou Marsh Award — as Canada’s athlete of the year, I picked Henderson. The winner was Marie-Philip Poulin, captain of the national women’s hockey team that won Olympic and World Championship gold. The case for Poulin is understandable, but it is an odd quirk that Henderson has never won the award even in a season with two wins, one of them a major.

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Weirdly, her consistency might work against her

Some of that is just unfortunate timing on her part — she won her first major in the same year in which Penny Oleksiak won four Olympic medals in Rio — but it also means that she hasn’t quite got her due. Weirdly, her consistency might work against her: Henderson has never had a white-hot stretch when she’s won a bunch and never cracked the top spot in the LPGA rankings. She’s just remarkably steady, rarely missing cuts, piling up top-10 finishes and notching a win or two every year. She’s also, and this isn’t a criticism, not sought out the spotlight. Her older sister, Brittany, remains her caddie and her father, Dave, is still her main coach.

There are countless stories of teen phenoms who flame out as professional athletes, especially in golf, but the kid sister who hung around driving ranges, learning the game with a mismatched set of clubs, has lived up to all the promise that she showed when she finished 10th in the U.S. Women’s Open as a 16-year-old amateur. She’s just gone about her business, year after year, carving out a career as most accomplished Canadian golfer ever, despite growing up in eastern Ontario, where the golf courses are covered in snow for a good chunk of the year. And she is still just 25 years old. It is wild. It’s not that Henderson is unheralded, but it still seems like she should be more, er, heralded.

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The LPGA Tour doesn’t have the profile of the tennis Slams, or the PGA Tour, in terms of mainstream exposure. But it’s the arena in which Henderson can compete, against deep fields every week. Given the defection of a few dozen PGA Tour players to chase Saudi lucre, the LPGA Tour can also claim to have the most competitive lineup in the sport week in and week out. And there was Henderson in Orlando, firing a 67-66 over the opening two rounds and ultimately cruising to victory against a field of tournament winners.

That she has made this kind of thing seem routine doesn’t make it any less impressive.

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