OTTAWA Brooke Henderson and her sister Brittany were sitting in office chairs, laughing, while hundreds of fans lined up outside a golf retail store for a chance to meet their hero. It’s not surprising they had fallen into a deep chuckle. That’s what they do. The memories they’ve made over the last decade or so, together, usually result in funny moments.
This time they were debating if the key to the city Brooke Henderson was going to get from Ottawa mayor Jim Watson later that day would be a real key. It’s her third. Sometimes you lose track of these things. Calgary and Smiths Falls, Ont. – their hometown – also gave Brooke one.
“I’m racking them up,” she says.
In Calgary it’s not a key at all, though, it’s a white cowboy hat. The size was a little off, so it ended up just sitting on top of Brooke’s head. They keep having trouble with hats. When she won the CP Women’s Open in 2018 her father, Dave, took a hat from a Mountie and tried putting it on his daughter. No real luck there, either.
The crowd outside was growing. Some kids had skipped school. A middle-aged woman brought a lawn chair to make her wait outside more comfortable. A father stood with his two girls, aged eight and 11, who always watch Henderson on TV. “She’s a huge inspiration,” he says. Teenage boys tried to keep their cool. Star-struck young girls who want to be like her (they want to be her) were there. A guy with a long red beard and a Harley-Davidson cap and a shirt with ‘Wicked Crowes Outaouais’ on the back was all smiles. He was in a motorcycle club. It might have been a gang.
Everyone loves Brooke Henderson.
“It’s a really weird feeling,” Brittany Henderson, Brooke’s caddy and older sister by six years, tells the Star. “It’s very surreal, but it’s cool.
“She’s naturally very shy, but she really embraces it, and she does a really good job for a shy person to be outgoing when she needs to be. She loves the fan support.”
It’s almost time to go.
Brooke tosses her gum. She thought old-school bubble gum was a fun flavour. But it’s a little fake for her liking. Her agent passes her another piece. Mint this time. She adjusts her visor while looking at herself in her phone’s camera. One last squirt of hand sanitizer.
And she’s off.
This day is another big day in the life of Brooke Henderson. The Canadian, who won for the 11th time on the LPGA Tour just a few weeks prior, was in Ottawa to help promote the CP Women’s Open, making its return to the LPGA Tour’s schedule for the first time since 2019. It started with a visit to Golf Town in the city’s east end, where she took time to engage with everyone who came through – motorcycle rider or not.
“I’ve definitely grown and matured to be able to handle it,” says Henderson.
It was the busiest meet-and-greet Golf Town’s ever done with Henderson, with 165 emails on the list to receive their photo with Canada’s winningest golfer. The batch of emails represented more like 300 people. The store’s entire staff was there, too.
Henderson smiled, talked, bumped fists, and received gifts. There was a hand-made bracelet and a refrigerator-adorning painting from a young girl. She even smiles in her autograph. She signs it with two dots above the tail end of the ‘n’ in her last name, making it look like a face.
The yearbook editor from the 2011-12 school year at Smiths Falls District Collegiate Institute is in line with the decade-old book for Henderson to sign.
“Our girls’ team consisted of just a single player, Brooke Henderson,” the yearbook said. Henderson won two local championships that year and won the Ontario championship by five shots.
“This was an amazing performance for a grade nine student, and a sign of things to come.”
No kidding. About a month after the visit home, Henderson would go on to win her second major, the Amundi Evian Championship, with a tournament-clinching birdie on the 72nd hole. With that triumph, she became the first Canadian in history – male or female – to win multiple majors.
The line reached its end. She took a photo with all 16 of the Golf Town staff, thanked the four security guards who helped, and headed to Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club – the host of this year’s CP Women’s Open.
Lunch was served. There were sweet potato fries. She was shuffled into the curling pad for photos alongside Lorie Kane, who announced that this year’s CP Women’s Open would be, after a record-setting 30 starts, her last. Henderson got choked up when she talked about Kane’s influence on her and her sister.
One photo request was for Henderson to hold her hand up, to, well, nothing. It’s going to be photoshopped later this summer to show that kids can only be ‘this tall’ to get autographs. Henderson’s mom, Darlene, got a kick out of that one.
“I’m just so very proud of the girls. It’s so special,” Darlene says. “For the CP Women’s Open to be back in Ottawa this summer… that’s just super exciting for us.”
Henderson knew it was time to go again. Deep breath. Another drink of water.
And she’s off.
Ryan Paul could not have slid into his role as the Tournament Director of the CP Women’s Open at a better time. The first time he ran the show was the year Henderson won, in 2018.
The following year Henderson was in the final group on Sunday, and the championship was eventually won by the world’s No. 1 golfer, Jin Young Ko, who finally returns to defend in 2022.
After two years of COVID-19 cancellations, the event is back. And just like the RBC Canadian Open, the excitement is boiling over. Mostly thanks to Henderson, who has now won twice on the LPGA Tour this season.
“It plays into everything,” Paul says of the 2018 champion. “Although we don’t have to sell ‘The Brooke Factor.’ It sells itself. Everyone has been looking forward to her return to Ottawa.”
Each of the top 10 on the current LPGA Tour money list have committed to playing the CP Women’s Open this year, and 41 of the top 50. The 1,200-strong volunteer list was filled in mid-April, the fastest Golf Canada has ever filled the spaces to help. Corporate Ottawa has shown up, too, Paul says. All the hospitality offerings are sold out on No.’s 18, 17, and 16. “We’re going down the holes now,” says Paul, “and it’s all around Brooke.”
Watson, Ottawa’s mayor, jokes that he hopes everyone noticed Hunt Club Rd. was paved since the last time the tournament happened. “These are the things you worry about as mayor,” he says.
He shouts out a few notable recipients of the key to the city, which was first bestowed in 1902. Now Henderson is on the list.
“When she turned pro at such a young age, she’s never forgotten her roots in Ottawa and eastern Ontario,” Ottawa’s mayor Watson tells the Star. “It’s our way of saying, ‘keep up the great work representing our city on the world stage.’”
You can’t help but compare the worldly effort of Henderson to that of Rory McIlroy on the RBC Canadian Open side. He’s not Canadian, of course, but many people went to St. George’s in Etobicoke that week to see him. McIlroy knows a lot comes along with being a top player in the game, and he relishes it.
“Everyone says, ‘Oh, you must get so sick of taking photos with everyone. And I said, ‘well it beats no one asking for a photo,’” McIlroy said in June. “I’ve worked hard to get to this position, and yeah, I mean, if I didn’t like the attention I would go and I would play another sport or I would get another job.”
Laurence Applebaum, the CEO of Golf Canada, is happy McIlroy didn’t get another job. The same goes for Henderson.
During McIlroy’s Sunday charge at the RBC Canadian Open, Henderson was also inching closer to finding the winner’s circle on the LPGA Tour.
But Applebaum says that while McIlroy’s surge to defend his Canadian title had golf fans in this country captivated, there was still a palpable buzz on Henderson’s accomplishment that day, too. Mary DePaoli, the chief marketing officer and executive vice-president of RBC, even told Jay Monahan, the commissioner of the PGA Tour, about it. He was pumped. Everyone was pumped.
“She’s incredibly talented,” said Corey Conners on that Sunday at the RBC Canadian Open. “From all Canadians, congrats Brooke. That’s really special.”
Applebaum called the return of the RBC Canadian Open an “explosion” two years in the making. He feels that exact same momentum is building in Ottawa.
“The excitement is immense, and I will tell you coming on the property (at Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club) it just feels like championship golf,” says Applebaum. “It feels so good.”
Henderson’s day is nearly done. For two of her three final interviews, she sits down.
She dropped in a few nice jokes. The key to Ottawa is a thrill, but it’s actually the Ottawa airport, she says, that’s her true second home with how much she’s flown out of there in her life. She’s also not sure where Brittany Henderson is. That stretch “may be the longest they’ve been apart,” since they travel and room together on the road. Turns out the elder Henderson was on the course with her yardage book scouting some changes.
A reporter from Smiths Falls asked her about hometown support. Brooke and Brittany Henderson’s names are on the town’s ‘Welcome’ sign, after all.
“It’s all pretty amazing. The best way to sum it up is just that the love and support is awesome,” she says.
Henderson admits during the CP Women’s Open there are a lot of requests. She wants to fulfill them all, but you can’t blame her for picking and choosing. That’s a lot of weight to carry. Instead, she says, the main thing she’s focused on that week is playing her best.
And she does that for herself.
“I think everyone wants me to do well. And how cool is that to be loved for a player and for me?” says Henderson. “But at the end of the day I’m doing this to be better and hoist the trophy, again, that I’ve dreamt about since I was a little girl.”
Henderson waves a few more times to the last of the tournament officials. The smile is still there. She’s doffed her visor now, and her sun sleeves are gone. Darlene Henderson was charged with carrying Ottawa’s key to the car. Henderson’s agent is carrying her golf bag. Canada’s best golfer walks by a group on the driving range at Ottawa Hunt warming up for their own twilight game. She bumps one last fist.
And she’s off again.
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