The start to the 2017 LPGA season has not met the personal standards of Brooke Henderson but that does not mean the Canadian teen is not ready for the first major of the season, the ANA Inspiration. At least that’s how she sees it.
Six events into the year, most players would be satisfied with the campaign Henderson is assembling. Victory has been elusive for the 13th ranked player in the world but she has managed to post four finishes inside the top 21.
The highlight came in Singapore where a 66 in the final round vaulted her in to a tie for 4th place. The shade over that? The cut she missed last week at the Kia Classic, one of few in her young career. She believes it was due to the weather more than anything she has going on with her game.
“Last week, I think I got on the wrong side of the draw and it was very cold, wet, and Thursday, I didn’t really get my round off to a great start,” shared the 2016 KMPG PGA Champion.
The dark clouds (literally) did have a silver lining of sorts. It allowed Henderson and her caddy/sister Brittany to arrive early in Rancho Mirage. The southern California enclave is just over two hours drive from the coastal town of Carlsbad where the Kia Classic is played.
She arrived at Mission Hills on Saturday and has been playing each day. She asserts that it has given her a great feel for the golf course in a tournament where her affection for it has only grown since her first appearance.
“This is one of my favourite tournaments all year,” Henderson commented in the media room on Wednesday. “You know, coming here as an amateur in 2014, I got to witness and experience an amazing atmosphere out here, and Poppy’s Pond, Dinah Shore, it’s such an amazing tradition. I’m excited to go out and hopefully get off to a fast start Thursday and Friday and put myself into contention on Sunday.”
The Game Plan
As for how she plans to do that, the Smiths Falls, Ontario golfer will lean on a club that has brought her much success through the years. She recently added a slightly stiffer shaft to her PING driver to suit her clubhead speed, which has been edging up with a growing fitness regiment. It should give a boost to her accuracy, a key at Mission Hills.
“Yeah, you’ve got to hit fairways,” she points out as her focus. “And I think if I can get my driver out there a good distance, there’s a lot of corners and a lot of trouble that you need to carry it 250. So if I can do that, I think I can take out a lot of the field that way. And the rough is very long, so hitting fairways and being consistent is also very important. You know, the greens are always fast and firm out here, so making sure you’re hitting fairways and giving yourself a great angle for approach shots will be really important the next few days.”
Having won a major championship before, Brooke asserts that she has a lot more confidence coming into this event, especially as she develops her knowledge of the course she first faced as a 16 year-old amateur.
“You know, in 2014, I finished tied for 25th. Last year I finished tied 10th. So I’m slowly improving and slowly learning a little bit more about the golf course, and where good misses are and where sometimes you just need to make par and get out and try and make birdie on the next hole. So I think I’m slowly learning that, and I think, you know, the more people play out here, usually I think the better they will play.”
With the high standard of her play in 2016 in the rear-view mirror Henderson was asked if she felt like it was just human nature to try and easy into this year. She dismissed it, while recognizing how good of a season it had been.
“Yeah, you know, that wasn’t my plan, but like you said, last year was a really busy year, and I met all of my goals. It was kind of like the perfect year: 17 Top 10s, winning two events, including a major, representing Canada in the Olympics; it was kind of a highlight year.”
That all covered, she prefers to look ahead.
She explained, “So far into the year, 2017, I haven’t necessarily performed or gotten the results that I necessarily want, but I feel my game is really close and hopefully if I can just tune up a little bit mentally and get focused on what I actually have to do, I think my game is right there; that I can win a few more times, and I think that starts this week. Having played the golf course the last few days, I think it really suits my game really well. So if I can get my mental attitude the way it should be, I think I’ll be right there on Sunday.
Henderson will tee off for Round 1 of the ANA Inspiration at 8:09 a.m. local time on Thursday. She will play alongside Shanshan Feng of China.
Two other Canadians are in the field. Maude-Aimee Leblanc of Quebec gets started at 7:33 a.m. local time on the 10th tee. She is playing with Pernilla Lindberg of Sweden. Alena Sharp of Hamilton, Ontario goes off the 10th tee at 12:15 p.m. with Sarah Jane Smith of Australia.
/ Scott MacLeod, @Flagstick