AURORA, Ont. – Ask the average Canadian to name a female golfer from this country and dollars to donuts they’re going to say Brooke Henderson.
The reason for that is obvious: The congenial 21-year-old from small-town Smiths Falls, Ont., is the winningest Canadian golfer in history – and that’s both women and men.
Henderson won the Meijer LPGA Classic in June, her second victory of the season, to give her nine career LPGA Tour titles to break a tie with Hall of Famer Sandra Post and also move ahead of George Knudson and Mike Weir for the overall mark.
So her fame is well deserved.
Ask those same people to name another golfer and they might come up with Hall of Famer Lorie Kane, who is at Magna Golf Club this week for her 29 th consecutive CP Women’s Open, or Hamilton’s Alena Sharp, the second-highest ranked Canadian on the LPGA Tour behind Henderson.
Beyond that, though, the casual sports fan might have a tough time coming up with another name.
But that could all change in the not-too-distant-future.
Henderson is having the same effect on women’s golf that Weir had on the men’s game in this country after he won the Masters in 2003, meaning more girls are getting into the sport now that they have a role model to look up to.
“Brooke being who she is has a massive influence and if you walk around you’ll see how many kids are wearing Ping (the brand of clubs Henderson uses) visors and who are following her around,” Canada’s national women’s team coach Tristan Mullally told Postmedia’s weekly golf podcast, The Fore-Cast, on Wednesday. “And you watch the galleries on a Monday practice round here trying to get at her at 7:30 in the morning – you know this kid has an influence and we’re pumped up about that.
“To look to someone who comes from a small town in Canada and think: ‘That’s something I can do’ is absolutely huge and I think it’s been lacking. Mike and Lorie were the mastheads for Canada over the years and there was a little bit of a window there when that wasn’t the case and now there’s a bunch of players, both on the men’s and women’s tours, that are leading that charge, who are young and vibrant and who speak to the quality of the game in Canada. And I think we have to leverage that a little bit to show just how good Canadian golf is and just how much we love it.”
There are 15 Canadians in the CP Women’s Open field this week, including Henderson, Kane and Sharp. Other LPGA Tour regulars are Anne-Catherine Tanguay, Maude-Aimee Leblanc and Brittany Marchand. But it’s some of the lesser-known names, not yet on the tour, that might provide the most thrills going forward.
Mullally says there are plenty of talented young female golfers coming up the Canadian pipeline.
“I think the future is bright,” the Irishman said. “We’ve got players who are capable of winning on the LPGA Tour and they should certainly go out and do that. One in the field this week would be Maddie Szeryk. Maddie had a stellar college career (Texas A&M), had the lowest scoring average, the most rounds under par ever of a collegiate player, won seven NCAA events, career low rounds of 61, 62. Just a standout college player, who was a former Canadian junior champion. She’s sitting 12th on the Symetra Tour money list right now in her first year. And as someone who is just starting to grow into how good she is, I could see her, with this golf course, doing really well here.
“When you start to look to the junior players, Emily Zhu is very, very impressive. She’s Canadian junior champion. She has a very slight build but she hits it as far as anyone on the team. Almost a 100-m.p.h. swing speed, and she’s only 15 years old and maybe weighing 100 pounds, maybe. And more than how she hits it, it’s how she carries herself and goes about her business. She’s very impressive and someone to look out for.”
Another golfer to watch this week is Michelle Liu, a member at Shaughnessy Golf Club in Vancouver (where next year’s open will be held), who will be the youngest player ever to compete in the CP Women’s Open. The 12-year-old earned an exemption into this event by being low Canadian at the national women’s amateur event in Alberta.
Celeste Dao, who just accepted a full scholarship to the University of Georgia, is another top prospect. The 18-year-old is the junior girls champion and earlier this summer earned a spot in the U.S. Women’s Open.
Further proof that the future of women’s golf in this country is in good hands is the number of Canadians trying to work their way on to the LPGA Tour, which is about to start its Q-school.
“I think it’s the largest Q-school entrance in LPGA history,” tour commissioner Mike Whan said. “And outside of the U.S., Canada is the second-largest country represented in Q-school. I haven’t said that in the last seven of eight years … so that’s nice to know in terms of the pipeline coming.”
Ever wonder what it might be like to be a professional athlete?
Suzann Pettersen said it’s a little bit like living in a “bubble.” But the 2009 CP Women’s Open champion only came to the realization after stepping away from the game for more than a year to have a baby boy.
“This is the first time I realized what a life this is and what a bubble being a professional athlete is,” said Pettersen, who is just returning to competitive golf since taking the entire 2018 season off. “Once you’re in it, you don’t think about it. But I stepped away long enough and I was far enough away that I could look at everything from the outside. That almost made me think I’ve been a weirdo for 19 years.
“When I realized I wasn’t going to be able to play, be able to travel, the best thing for me was just shut off the switch, which I’ve never done. That was the first time in 20 years. I turned it off and I didn’t think about golf, didn’t watch golf.”
Pettersen is using the 10th anniversary of her Canadian victory to prepare for the Solheim Cup, when Europe and the U.S. clash in the women’s version of the Ryder Cup.
“When I was thinking of how I can possibly prepare the best I can for September, playing here was the obvious choice,” said Pettersen, whose inclusion on Team Europe was just recently announced. “I arrive here a little bit later than I normally did in my heyday, but routines have changed.
“Gleneagles is going to be a fantastic venue. I think we have an awesome team. It’s going to be fun.”
This is Pettersen’s third event since returning to tournament golf. She missed the cut in both the Scottish Open in August and the Dow Great Lakes in July.
“I’m kind of creating new routines, I’m not trying to pick up where I left off because my priorities are different. But these two weeks, I left everyone at home so I can get the preparation and hard work done for what’s coming in three or four weeks,” she said.
Whan knows that sports fans in the Greater Toronto Area have plenty of places to spend their entertainment dollars, but said this event is something they shouldn’t miss as the CP Women’s Open doesn’t come through the area very often.
“You’re talking about the best female athletes in the world playing right here in your backyard and, honestly, one of the most beautiful venues I’ve ever been in. And I’ve been in the business a long time,” Whan said. “It might be cool to be in Toronto, but 170 countries will also be paying attention to what goes on here this week, so I really hope the fans come out and create the kind of atmosphere that Magna could really create.”
This year marks only the second time since 2001 (when golf legend Annika Sorenstam won at Angus Glen Golf Club in Markham) that our national open has been held in the GTA.
As proof of the popularity of the CP Women’s Open among the golfers, 96 of the top 100 players on the LPGA Tour are competing at Magna this week. “I don’t believe we’ve had another stop where 96 of the top 100 are here,” Whan said. “Players are excited before they get here. They know Golf Canada does it right in terms of how they treat the players, how they treat the caddies, how they treat the fans.” … Whan on the shape of the LPGA Tour: “In the last four years, we’ve had more sponsors join the LPGA than in any four-year period in our history.” … Other than the five majors, the CP Women’s Open has the highest purse at $2.25 million US … The LPGA is adding two new stops next season, the Dex Imaging Pelican Women’s Championship, to be held in St. Petersburg, Fla., just south of Tampa, and the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio in Boca Raton, Fla. Also the Blue Bay, in China, usually held at the end of the year, is moving to the spring … Golf Canada and Levelwear apparel have announced a deal to extend their partnership through 2020. The multi-year extension will continue Levelwear’s support as official headwear and apparel provider to Golf Canada properties and championships.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019