LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA | There isn’t much to nitpick about Brooke Henderson’s game. She hits it long; she hits it straight and she makes putts. So the naysayers look elsewhere to find flaws. The easiest aspect to question is her approach, which drips with an aggression that, from a fan perspective, is flat-out fun to watch. And, at least so far, it has worked just fine.
At only 21, Henderson already has eight LPGA victories, including the 2016 KPMG Women’s PGA, top-10 finishes in eight other majors and at least one victory for five consecutive seasons with two wins in each of the last three years.
Maybe her resume would be fatter if she were more strategic. Her Rolex Ranking would likely be higher if she adjusted her schedule to accumulate world-ranking points. In the last 16 months, Henderson has three wins and another 12 top-10 finishes while Lexi Thompson has one win and eight top-10s. Thompson is the seventh-ranked player in the world. Henderson is ranked eighth.
What we know is this: Henderson’s style puts a smile on her face. And, in her case, a happy golfer is a successful golfer.
So far this year, Henderson is averaging nearly 280 yards off the tee; has put the ball in the fairway 72 percent of the time and hits the green with a tad more than three-quarters of her approach shots. And when on the green, Henderson is No. 39 in putts per green in regulation and No. 47 in total putts.
When you hit as many greens as Henderson does, those are more than adequate putting numbers. And while there are times a prodigious poke with her choked-down 48-inch driver leaves an awkward yardage, attacking the course unleashes a flood of adrenaline that raises her game and exploits her advantages over others.
“Being aggressive when I’m playing well is a lot of fun for me,” she said Tuesday at Wilshire Country Club, two days after winning the Lotte Championship in Hawaii and two days before once again being on the first page of an LPGA leaderboard at the Hugel-Air Premia LA Open. “Making a lot of birdies, just hitting shots that not a lot of other players hit, too, being able to cut those corners. That’s really fun for me.”
When discussing her victory in Hawaii, Henderson used the word “fun” multiple times. It’s reminiscent of how Phil Mickelson responds when asked about his aggressive style. Lefty, who has 44 PGA Tour victories, including five majors, always said that to play his best he must have fun and that laying up is simply not fun. Henderson agrees.
“I’m a little bit wiser on what holes I can attack and other ones where par is good and lay up. But for the most part, I like to be aggressive and I like to make a lot of birdies.” – Brooke Henderson
“I try to be smart-aggressive, but when I know I can hit a shot, I want to hit it. I don’t want to have to lay up or anything like that,” she says, smiling broadly when asked about hitting driver off the deck on par-5s.
“I feel like it’s changing a little bit as I get to know the courses a little bit better,” Henderson says about her smart-aggressive play. “I’m a little bit wiser on what holes I can attack and other ones where par is good and lay up. But for the most part, I like to be aggressive and I like to make a lot of birdies.”
One of those following Henderson in L.A. was fellow Canadian Wayne Gretzky.
“Her talent is true and she’s just fun to watch,” the Great One said about Henderson. “People relate to her because she’s not the biggest person and she’s not the strongest person but she gets it done. She’s a great example to young people that if you work hard good things can happen. The Canadian people feel privileged to be her fan.”
From the first time she picked up a golf club, Henderson has wanted to grip it and rip it. The way she chokes down on the shaft, letting several inches of grip dangle beyond her hands as if it’s trying to escape, is not something learned but rather lived.
“Since I was 3 or 4 years old, just kind of learning the game, [I] always choked up,” she says. “I actually tried to change a few years ago; just not comfortable. I mean, it’s been working so I just kind of decided to keep it.”
And that pretty much sums up her attitude – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. The one thing she did dial back – the length of her driver – was because of rules, not results.
“I always was pretty straight off the tee when I was growing up,” she says. “I was looking for a little bit more distance. My dad actually had a 51-inch driver he used for long-drive competitions when he was younger. When I was maybe 15, I started practicing with it. I really liked it, but knowing the legal limit was 48, we went back to 48.”
Henderson’s goals for this year are to pick up a second win – at least – and have a scoring average under 70, which she’s done the last two seasons. “I would love to keep the streak going since 2016, two wins a season,” she says. “I think to do that, scoring average is really my main focus.”
Henderson, who’s averaging 69.54 this year, says if she can keep that up, she’ll be “hopefully in a lot of final groups.”
Brooke Henderson’s long, flowing swing is her trademark. Photo: Kelvin Kuo, USA Today Sports
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