Henderson looks to end Canada’s LPGA drought at Manulife LPGA Classic

CAMBRIDGE, Ont. — Lorie Kane was the last Canadian to win an LPGA event back in 2001. Fourteen years later, her young protege hopes to end that drought on home soil.

Brooke Henderson highlights a contingent of 10 Canadian golfers at this week’s Manulife LPGA Classic at Whistle Bear Golf Club. In her first season as a pro, the 17-year-old has already come close to winning a championship and ending Canada’s barren run since Kane’s victory at the Takefuji Classic.

“We’re hoping to change that this week,” said Henderson, sitting alongside her caddie, older sister Brittany, in a press conference Tuesday.

A bold statement for a golfer who isn’t even a member of the LPGA yet due to age requirements. But the Smiths Falls, Ont., native — playing in this event on a sponsor’s exemption — has a right to boast.

Henderson has made the cut in all five LPGA tournaments she’s played in since turning pro in December, including a third-pace finish at Swinging Skirts and a tie for 13th at the North Texas Shootout in back-to-back tournaments in April.

This past weekend at the Shoprite LPGA Classic, Henderson pulled together a final round of 4-under par 67. If she can do that consistently over four days on Canadian soil,she has a shot at her first career LPGA win.

“I’m just trying to be the best that I can be,” said Henderson.

“(Brittany and I) know we still have a long journey ahead of us and we’re nowhere near where we want to be. In the next couple years, we both plan to be on LPGA Tour playing week to week and earning full status. Of course, there is a little bit of pressure, but it’s fun.”

Kane has become somewhat of a mentor to the teenager since the two played the final round of the Manulife Classic three years ago. The veteran compared Henderson to a hockey goalie.

“She’s a tactician,” Kane said. “I know I was watching the hockey game the other night, and I was asking Chris, my manager, I said, ‘How do goalies’ see things? The puck’s coming at you’. So if she takes that mindset to the golf course … she knows what she needs to do and she’s very zoned in on what needs to happen.”

Henderson is also usually in attack mode on the course, which could make things interesting for her if the wind picks up on the 6,613-yard, links-style course.

“I tend to be a little more aggressive on some lines and if I have approach shots into the green,” Henderson said, crediting her sister for pushing her to be a better golfer.

“When (Brittany and I) are caddying for each other, we know each other’s strengths so we try to help each other to make the best shot possible according to our strengths. I think growing up and always competing against and with each other and trying to push ourselves to the next level, we sort of developed our own games but also developed each other’s.”

Henderson never failed to make the cut at the Manulife Classic when it was in Waterloo, Ont., firing 10-under par in 2013 for a tie of 35th, and shooting 6-under last year to finish tied for 45th. This year she sits 69th in the Rolex World Rankings, and her earnings of US$184,745 would put her at 31st on the money list if she were a full-time Tour member.

That drive was something she instilled in herself as a young golfer growing up.

“I wanted to be like the girls on tour, like Lorie Kane, Morgan Pressel and Julie Inkster,” Henderson said. “I wanted to be someone out there travelling week to week and playing against the best players in the world.

“I’m very grateful now that it has become more of a reality. I don’t have my full status yet on tour and hopefully that will change as of next year.”

Henderson’s star has risen dramatically this season and earned her a spot on Canada’s women’s golf team at the upcoming Pan Am Games in Toronto.

“It’s a great honour, especially being the first Pan Am Games with golf,” she said. “And it’s in Toronto, pretty close to home and in Canada which I think is huge for both the game of golf and Canadian fans of all sports, especially leading to the Olympics next year.”

Bill Doucet, The Canadian Press

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