Even after appearing in 42 majors – and winning two – Brooke Henderson is still learning how to balance the pressure and opportunity of playing in the biggest tournaments of the women’s golf season.
Henderson, from Smiths Falls, Ont., is the highest ranked Canadian at this week’s Chevron Championship, the first major of the LPGA Tour season. The 25-year-old Henderson said that she tries to stick to her usual preparation routines while being mindful of playing on some of the biggest stages in women’s golf.
“Everyone has these weeks circled on their calendar and they’re trying to peak for these events, but at the same time, you can’t go too far outside of what you’re comfortable with and what you’re used to,” said Henderson, while seeking shelter from the rain at The Club at Carlton Woods. “We play almost every week out here on tour, so we know what works and what doesn’t.
“I think sometimes you can put a little bit too much pressure on these weeks but at the same time you have to elevate.”
Henderson certainly elevated her game at majors last season, arguably having her best-ever season at the biggest five tournament’s on the women’s golf calendar, including winning The Evian Championship on July 24. She also tied for 13th at last year’s Chevron Championship, tied for 15th at the U.S. Open Women’s, tied for 16th at the Women’s PGA Championship, and tied for seventh at the Women’s British Open.
“I don’t think it will ever get old,” she said about playing in a major. “You walk in here and the atmosphere is just different. Everybody’s super excited and really focused and it’s just the next level.
“These weeks are just next level and you have to really bring your A game if you want to compete.”
Henderson will be joined by Maude-Aimee Leblanc of Sherbrooke, Que., and Maddie Szeryk of London, Ont., in The Woodlands, Texas. It will be the 26-year-old Szeryk’s first appearance at a major as professional, having played in the U.S. Women’s Open as an amateur in 2017.
Szeryk qualified for the Chevron based on her CME Race to the Globe rankings. She’s 65th entering play this week. Like Henderson, Szeryk noticed a difference when practising on Monday.
“I was out playing and it struck me ‘I played my way into a major,”’ said Szeryk. “How exciting is that? I’m just going to enjoy every moment of it.
“We get there and there’s a player gift, they’ve got a fancy coffee bar, the food is great. I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, this is a major.”’
Despite it being a greater stage with one of the largest purses on the LPGA Tour, Szeryk said she isn’t especially intimidated.
“It is a major and it’s supposed to be this big thing but the field is also pretty similar from week to week,” she said. “Obviously, you have all of the top players, but it’s still the same people, my same friend group is out here.
“I’m just trying to not make it bigger than any other tournament.”
Although in many respects the Chevron Championship looks like any other week on the LPGA Tour, it is very different than previous editions of the same tournament.
Originally called the Colgate-Dinah Shore Winner’s Circle when it was founded in 1972, the event has had several name changes but is still colloquially known as “the Dinah Shore.” Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., just outside of Palm Springs, has always hosted the event until this year. Chevron became the named sponsor last year and moved it to the Jack Nicklaus Signature Course at The Club at Carlton Woods, a luxury course in The Woodlands, Texas, just outside of Houston, this year.
“It’s all bigger and better here in Houston, which is pretty cool,” said Henderson. “I think we’re all a little bit sad to lose the tradition and history that Palm Springs had like the (winner’s) leap into Poppie’s Pond and the connection with Dinah Shore.
“But so far this week, it’s been an amazing experience here in Houston. (…) I think they’re just trying to make improvements and continue to grow the women’s game.”