It might not have been the return home that Brooke Henderson envisioned.
But during a first round at the CP Women’s Open in Ottawa where the winningest Canadian golfer ever couldn’t seem to buy a putt after a hot start, the crowd’s support never wavered.
“It’s OK, Brooke,” shouted one fan after Henderson three-putted for bogey on her fifth hole.
“You’re the best Canada’s got,” shouted another as Henderson stopped and signed autographs following her round.
Henderson finished with a 2-under 69 at the Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club, a course located about one hour north of her hometown of Smiths Falls, Ont.
“It’s so crazy and super cool that I have this much support,” Henderson said. “I mean, I know I am close to home, but to see this many people out watching is just an amazing opportunity. Just trying to soak it in and play a little bit better.”
After opening with three birdies in three holes, the Canadian plateaued. She managed just two more birdies compared to three bogeys the rest of the way.
While her ball-striking was excellent throughout, Henderson’s short game let her down at times.
“I feel like I hit the ball really close today. Maybe the putter wasn’t as hot on the back nine. I feel like I could have gone really low, so it’s a little disappointing, but at the same time, under par, and I feel like things are OK and I’ll play better tomorrow,” Henderson said.
Henderson sits tied for 51st, staring up at three other Canadians on the leaderboard. Toronto amateur Lauren Zaretsky, buoyed by an ace on the fifth hole, was 3-under, while Maddie Szeryk of London, Ont., and Alena Sharp of Hamilton, Ont., were each 4-under.
Twelve-year-old Lucy Lin of Vancouver — the youngest player ever to qualify for this tournament — scored a 3-over 74.
South Africa’s Paula Reto was the leader after the first round, shooting a 9-under 62.
WATCH | Szeryk tied for low Canadian at 4-under:
‘This is the stuff dreams are made of’
Still, it was clear who the crowd came to see.
The 24-year-old Henderson’s 12 victories and two major titles are unmatched in Canadian history.
One of those wins came at the CP Women’s Open in 2018 in Regina — a moment that Brittany Henderson, Brooke’s sister and caddie, said stands out over her seven years on the bag.
Only one thing could be better.
“For [Brooke] to do it even closer to home in Ottawa would be pretty amazing,” Brittany said ahead of this week’s tournament.
It was just last month at the Evian Championship in France when a firm claim to the title of greatest Canadian golfer ever was within reach.
Brooke took a lead into the weekend by becoming the first LPGA player to open a major with two rounds of 64. But Saturday saw her fall back to the pack, and Sunday was near-disastrous when an early four-putt pushed her out of the lead entirely.
“I said to her, ‘This is the stuff dreams are made of.’ And I’m serious,” Brittany said. “I was having so much fun. Even though it’s intense and you’re serious out there. But I was having so much fun just being in that position.”
Despite a bogey on the next hole, Brooke birdied three of the final five and eventually fought back to win by sinking a 10-foot putt on 18.
It’s the same mindset the Hendersons hope to carry into Friday in Ottawa and, if all goes well, through the weekend.
At this point, the sisters have plenty of experience on the golf course together.
When they were kids, they’d play matches where the winner would get chocolate milk or simply not have to do the dishes.
It was a sisterly rivalry that quickly became evenly matched despite Brittany’s age advantage. They broke their home course record about year to the day apart from one another.
“I feel like it was a healthy competition and it just sort of made us good competitors on the golf course. But I was six and a half years older than her, so I felt like she was always really trying to keep up to me, which is a tough task when you’re that much younger,” Brittany said.
By 2015, each had turned pro — Brittany after completing college at Coastal Carolina University, and Brooke at just 17 years old.
They were both coached by their dad, Dave Henderson, and the sisters caddied for each other whenever possible.
But when Brooke won her first professional tournament that year, they realized that if they teamed up, the stakes could increase from chocolate milk to millions of dollars.
Paul Vaillancourt, a former pro at Smiths Falls Golf and Country Club who spent time with the Hendersons as kids, said Brooke “doesn’t like to lose.”
“She hasn’t got the most classic golf swing that you see out there. I mean, it’s got a lot of strong points for sure,” he said. “But I think it’s her demeanour of just wanting to get that ball into the hole that’s always made her so successful.”
Humble yet competitive
To hear people describe Brooke, the former goalie, brings to mind some classic Canadian hockey stereotypes.
“She’s such a go getter, happy. If I asked her to do little things like pick the range or clean clubs, she was always one of the top ones to do that,” Vaillancourt recalled.
Added chief marketing officer Lisa Ferkul: “She has a certain humility to her that I think Canadians naturally have. And so I think that that patriotism really makes her special because she represents our entire nation.”
Brooke and Brittany now live about 15 minutes away from each other in southwest Florida. Despite her husband’s best efforts, Brittany hasn’t played for a few years — she says her competitive streak would make it hard when she inevitably misses a fairway or two.
“Brittany was very talented. Personally, I feel she could probably be in the top 30 on the LPGA Tour herself. That’s my opinion,” Vaillancourt said.
Brooke said she hopes Brittany stays on her bag “for a long time.”
“Just being able to travel around the world together, it’s been a super fun journey. She’s my best friend and works hard for me on and off the course,” Brooke said.
The sisters have hoisted trophies across the globe, from France to Hawaii to Saskatchewan.
But here in Ottawa, it’s the one closest to home that may mean the most.