Notebook: Henderson's March To Women's Amateur Final A Family Affair


Brooke Mackenzie Henderson (right) has the utmost trust and confidence with her sister, Brittany, on her bag in elite competitions such as this week's U.S. Women's Amateur. (USGA/Darren Carroll)
By David Shefter, Joey Flyntz and Lisa D. Mickey
August 9, 2014

GLEN COVE, N.Y. – Nearly seven years her senior, Brooke Mackenzie Henderson has always looked up to her sister, Brittany, with the utmost affection.

Especially when it comes to golf.

“I wanted to be just like her,” said Brooke, 16, who followed her now-23-year-old sister into competitive golf.

Long ago, the Henderson girls from Smiths Falls, Ontario, Canada, made a pact that they would caddie for each other, if time or schedules permitted.

Lately, it’s been a one-sided deal. The younger Henderson, now No. 2 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking™, has become one of the world’s brightest young-and-coming talents. Brittany, who graduated in December from Coastal Carolina University’s professional golf management program, is a young professional with aspirations of competing on the LPGA Tour.

Of course, a career caddieing for her younger sister might not be a bad fallback option.

On Saturday at Nassau Country Club, Brooke advanced to the 36-hole championship match of the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship with a 1-up win over 16-year-old Hannah O’Sullivan, of Paradise Valley, Ariz. She’ll face another 16-year-old, Kristen Gillman, of Austin, Texas, in Sunday’s final, vying to becoming the first Canadian in 36 years to hoist the Robert Cox Trophy.

And Brittany has been with her every step of the way.

In fact, Brittany was on the bag in June when Brooke tied for 10th at the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2 to earn low-amateur honors. She also caddied for her at this year’s Kraft Nabisco Championship (T-26) and the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada (T-45).

With such a built-in support system, Brooke didn’t need to look far for a caddie she could trust.

“She knows my game the best of anybody,” said Brooke. “She knows what I am feeling when I am in a stressful situation and she knows what to say to calm me down, which is perfect.”

From the moment the two stepped on the grounds of Nassau C.C., Brittany and Brooke have talked through every shot. No detail gets missed, whether it’s a proper line of attack, club selection or reading a tricky putt. Brittany, who has competed in Canadian Women’s Tour events and a few state opens, brings a player’s mentality, something a club caddie or parent might not possess.

“We were raised the same way in terms of golf, so we play the same way,” said Brittany, who is in the process of becoming a certified teaching professional with the Canadian Professional Golfers Association. “We have similar ideas of how to play a shot, so we don’t get into too many disagreements. It works out well that way.”

Brittany said she has been impressed by her sister’s consistency, especially during Saturday’s semifinals when her ball-striking was below her normal standards.

“She still stayed patient and found a way to get it done, and I think that’s what is important in match play,” said Brittany.

While the two have been a formidable team this week, back at home, the competition is strong between the sisters. Brooke certainly is the more decorated of the two, but Brittany said she can give her younger sibling a challenge on the course. However, neither could recall the first time the younger Henderson prevailed.

“It’s good to have someone to play against,” said Brittany. “You are always challenging yourself and having fun while doing it.”

Someday, both could be walking the same fairways in an LPGA Tour event.

It’s just unknown if it will be as fellow competitors or as a player-caddie partnership. Either way, the future looks bright for the Hendersons.

Old Cemetery Just A Putter Fling Away

b_Cemetary --- Cemetary near the 10th tee during the semifinal round of  
A small cemetery near Nassau Country Club's halfway house dates back to the 1600s, long before the club was founded in 1896. (USGA/Darren Carroll)  
Nassau Country Club, host to this week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur, has plenty of history, dating back to 1896.

But one small, shaded spot to the left of the 18th green -- largely out of play from the golf course -- and adjacent to the Calamity Jane Halfway House warrants special mention. A letter framed on the wall in the halfway house explains why a small cemetery is located on the property.

“This was once all a farm and the Townsend family sold the farm with the stipulation that the cemetery would stay in perpetuity after the sale,” said club historian Doug Fletcher. “There are tombstones in the graveyard that date back to the 1600s.”

William Townsend owned the land and family cemetery and sold the property to Henry Titus in April 1822. The letter, written by J.B. Coles Tappan in July 1916, describes the clause in the deed, detailing the terms of maintaining the quiet resting place even as the land changed hands.

Tappan wrote that the plot of “five rods square of land on the farm for a family burying ground for the party of Townsend, his heirs and family connections” must be maintained.

He also wrote that the heirs of William Townsend still have, among other things, “the privilege of passing and repassing to said ground” and that the “proposed location of the new golf house does not encroach upon the rights of the heirs” of the Townsend family.

Cemeteries around the old golf courses of Scotland and Ireland are legendary, but not as common in the United States. And while a cemetery in the middle of an old golf club might seem odd to some, Fletcher notes that the family burial ground at Nassau is not an anomaly in this region.

“It’s really not that unusual for golf courses on Long Island to have cemeteries on them,” said Fletcher, co-chair of the championship. “Piping Rock Club and Deepdale Golf Club also have them on their property. As farmland was acquired to build golf courses around here, I guess the courses assumed the obligation of maintaining the cemeteries.”

Nassau’s cemetery is a quiet spot under mature hardwood trees several hundred yards from the club and about 50 yards from the 18th green. It has at least one story that is sometimes repeated, albeit with a raised brow.

According to a section entitled “Graveyard Myth” in Desmond Tolhurst’s book, “Nassau Country Club: The Place To Be,” a former assistant club pro, Joe Merkle, was on his way to work at the club in 1923 when he passed the graveyard on his “usual route to work” and “noticed two pieces of a broken putter.”

Merkle claimed to have taken the pieces to the pro shop and re-shafted and re-gripped the club. His story has Merkle giving the “Calamity Jane” putter to legendary amateur Bob Jones as a gift.

Most other accounts of that story have Jones playing a round of golf with friend and then-head pro Jim Maiden at Nassau on the Monday before the 1923 U.S. Open at Inwood (N.Y.) Country Club.

Jones reportedly complained about his putting to Maiden, who produced his own “Calamity Jane” putter that he had brought from Scotland. Legend has it that Maiden told Jones if he could make three putts from 10 feet, the putter was his – which Jones did.

“Some people talk about our old cemetery in terms of the myth that Bob Jones’ Calamity Jane putter was rescued from the cemetery,” said Fletcher. “The assistant professional at the time maintained that he had found the putter in the graveyard, but we believe it was Jim Maiden’s putter that was given to Jones.”

And with so much history and a 400-year-old cemetery in the middle, either makes for a good story, whichever one you choose to believe.

Lee Leaves Disappointed, But Not Discouraged

A difficult six-hole stretch put Andrea Lee in too big a hole to climb out of, ending her Women’s Amateur run in the semifinals with a 4-and-3 loss to Kristen Gillman.  As the youngest semifinalist in the youngest semifinal quartet in championship history, however, Lee will leave Nassau Country Club encouraged with her progress.

 “I just had a really bad day today, but I take a lot from the championship,” said Lee, 15, of Hermosa Beach, Calif. “I got a lot of experience, and it definitely builds my confidence going into the rest of the year and next year, so hopefully I can come back and do better next year at the end.”

Lee, No. 10 in the WAGR and a 2016 Stanford University commit, still enjoyed a highly successful summer. She made the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2, which earned her exemptions into the U.S. Girls’ Junior and Women’s Amateur, posted her best Women’s Amateur finish in three attempts (she defeated U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links runner-up Eunjeong Seong in the quarterfinals) and advanced to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Girls’ Junior, where she lost to eventual runner-up Marijosse Navarro.

All of those experiences provided crucial information going forward.

“I really learned how to be patient out here,” she said. “There are so many rounds of golf in match play, and you just really have to stay positive with yourself, even if you're down in match play. I really take a lot from the last two USGA championships that I've played in.  I'm really proud of myself.”

O’Sullivan Benefits From ‘Best of Both Worlds’

Golf fans looking for Hannah O’Sullivan on Nassau Country Club’s practice range this week had it all wrong at times. Some were looking around for a fair-skinned, freckle-faced golfer with red hair.

“People are usually surprised when they meet me,” admitted O’Sullivan, 16, of Paradise Valley, Ariz., a 1-down victim to Brooke Mackenzie Henderson on Saturday. “I get lots of questions.”

That’s because O’Sullivan is the child of an Irish-American father and Korean mother.

“It’s actually really cool because maybe I have all the good golf blood,” said O’Sullivan, who was born in Singapore, but is an American citizen. “The women golfers produced in South Korea are incredible and Ireland has such great golf history, so I have the best of both worlds.”

Growing up in Northern California, O’Sullivan made her first big splash when she qualified for the 2010 San Francisco City Amateur Championship at age 11. But according to a story in Golfweek, the youngster was informed that she did not meet the age requirement of 12 and could not compete.

Undeterred, she went on to win the 2010 California State Amateur and qualified for the 2010 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Charlotte (N.C.) Country Club, losing in the round of 64.

O’Sullivan advanced to match play at last month’s U.S. Girls’ Junior, but lost in 21 holes to Sofia Chabon in the round of 64. This week’s run to the semifinals was a nice consolation.

“I played solid golf this week and I’ve been playing well all summer,” said O’Sullivan. … “I gained a lot of confidence and I’m going to take all the positives from this week.”

David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org. Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites. Joey Flyntz is an associate writer for the USGA. Email him at jflyntz@usga.org.

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