U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
Henderson Hoping This is Her Year at the U.S. Women’s Open
December 2, 2020
By Adam Stanley
As a youngster, Brooke Henderson met Morgan Pressel on the putting green at the 2008 CP Women’s Open, which was played about an hour from her hometown of Smiths Falls, Ontario, Canada. They took a picture together and it hung in her childhood bedroom. The 2005 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion was an idol to Henderson, who was just starting to make a name for herself in golf across Canada.
Five years later it was a different story, as Henderson and Pressel were both in the field at Henderson’s first U.S. Women’s Open. They were paired for Saturday’s round at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y., as Henderson also made cut for the first time on the LPGA Tour.
“I did not play well,” Henderson recalled with a big laugh. “But I did get to play with her, and I played the weekend at a major, which was pretty cool. A lot of my family and friends came down to watch and it was just really special to be able to make the cut and have all these people watch me play.”
Henderson has always had a strong connection to the U.S. Women’s Open, and now, in a year unlike any other, she approaches the final major of the season with a laser-like focus to come out on top.
With nine LPGA Tour victories, Henderson is already the winningest golfer from Canada in the history of either the LPGA or PGA Tour. She has been named the Canadian Press Female Athlete of the Year three times, and continues to have a positive impact on youngsters picking up the sport in Canada.
Her major record in 2020 is solid. She missed the cut at the AIG Women’s Open, but it was her first event back after an extended break due to COVID-19. She bounced back well at the ANA Inspiration, losing in a playoff, and added a sixth-place result at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, the event in which she captured her first major victory in 2016.
Henderson’s career at the U.S. Women’s Open has already been full of special moments – take 2014, for example, when she earned low-amateur honors en route to a T-10 finish. She called it a “breakthrough” year.
The week was already primed to be an important one for the game, as Pinehurst was hosting the U.S. Women’s Open the week following the U.S. Open. Henderson walked the course on Sunday and watched a few groups finish before returning on Monday to prepare for her own major championship.
“I really wanted to be part of that history,” Henderson said. “I remember leading up to the qualifier I was going to do everything I could to get into that field. When I finally did, the atmosphere was amazing.”
The following week Henderson won a professional event back in Canada, beating her older sister Brittany, who had caddied for her at the U.S. Women’s Open and is still her caddie to this day. That victory, combined with a long list of amateur accomplishments, helped her make the decision to forgo college and turn professional, but her finish at the U.S. Women’s Open was a big tipping point.
The very next year at the U.S. Women’s Open, played in front of enthusiastic crowds at Lancaster (Pa.) Country Club, Henderson made her presence felt yet again. She tied for fifth in her first U.S. Women’s Open as a professional. Later that summer she would win the LPGA Tour event in Portland.
The final phase of earning a Tour card, a dream she had since she was a child, began at the U.S. Women’s Open that year – with a very specific two-hole stretch, Henderson said.
After a rain delay on Friday, she went back to the course on Saturday to finish her second round. She rolled in a testy 7-foot par putt, but on the next hole she missed the green short right. She ended up chipping in to slide into the weekend.
“I knew I needed a big week,” said Henderson. “I was able to make the cut and I played really well on the weekend.”
That T5 is, to date, her best career result in a U.S. Women’s Open.
In 2016 all eyes were on the Canadian as she had won her first major earlier in the season and won on the LPGA Tour (again in Portland) the week prior. She didn’t play her best at CordeValle, though, and is now able to admit that she was wiped from the year-that-was up to that point.
“A combination of (being tired) and expecting myself to play better than I did… I just wasn’t able to perform at the same level,” says Henderson. “I definitely learned from it and how important proper rest is before a major.”
This year Henderson is as motivated as ever to play well at the U.S. Women’s Open.
She knows all about the championship’s important history, especially in this, its 75th playing. She will be well rested and adjusted to professional golf’s COVID-19 protocols, and eager to return to the mix after finishing T39 in 2019 at the Country Club of Charleston.
The personal highs for Henderson at the U.S. Women’s Open have been offset by some emotional lows as well – her 2018 championship was cut short when she withdrew after Round 1 following the death of her grandfather, Robert Moir, from cancer at 81. Through her growth as a person and a golfer, the goal has stayed the same: try to win this storied championship.
Given how she’s trending in the majors in 2020, this might be the year she gets to fulfill the dream of her 16-year-old self, to stand on the 18th green of the U.S. Women’s Open with a trophy in her hand.
And maybe there will be a young girl watching that scene unfold, with a photo of the Canadian hanging in her bedroom and the goal of becoming a USGA champion just like Henderson.
Adam Stanley is a multimedia golf journalist based in Ottawa, Ontario.