By Jeff Babineau
BELMONT, Mich. – Looking back at her magical Sunday at the ShopRite LPGA Classic in New Jersey less than 48 hours earlier, there was a word that kept coming back to Brooke Henderson as she sat with a microphone in her hand at Blythefield Country Club discussing this week’s Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give.
Perfect. She would use it on a couple of occasions.
Perfect, as in the only way to describe her final-round, bogey-free 64 that allowed her to chase down the lead and earn her way into a late-afternoon playoff against Lindsey Weaver-Wright. Perfect, as in her eagle on the first playoff hole that landed her a trophy, securing her first victory in a year, and her 11th triumph on the LPGA. All this at the age of 24.
As for this week at Blythefield, in Western Michigan, not far from Grand Rapids? Well, it would seem to set up rather perfectly for more of the same. In the eight-year history of the Meijer LPGA Classic, Canada’s Henderson is the only player to win the event twice.
Henderson won in 2017, and again in 2019. Blythefield Country Club has a Canadian feel to it, too, reminding her of some of the tree-lined courses and familiar grasses upon which she grew up playing.
“Lots of great memories here, and being a two-time champion, it’s exciting to kind of think, ‘Oh, yeah, I was here right in this spot, and I putted to that hole and I made it,” she said. “So it’s nice reflect on those memories and think about them. Hopefully add to the strategy this week.”
Henderson shot 21-under 263 in 2017, edging Lexi Thompson by two shots. At Blythefield, players must go low to contend. Hdnerson shot 63 in the opening round that year and never really cooled off. Two years ago, she started 64-64 and would cool some on the weekend, but her four-round total of 267 still was enough to beat a quartet of players by two shots. (Thompson again was a runner-up, one of the four finishing two shots out.)
What did Henderson feel was extra special in her game that week?
“Any time you’re winning, you have to make a lot of putts, so hopefully the putter is working well this week,” Henderson said. “I think off the tee here, you know, hitting it in certain spots, and even it applies more so now that they have the extra bunkers and how thick the rough is, especially the first couple yards off the fairway.
“So, I think hitting it long and straight off the tee will be a key this week, first step to get you to making some birdies.”
Henderson’s victory at the ShopRite lifted her to eighth in the Rolex Rankings, moving her up three spots. There are nine of the top 10 in the rankings here this week at Blythefield, and 18 of the top 20, giving the event a big-time feel.
Henderson started the 2022 LPGA season nicely. She didn’t win, but her first six starts produced some solid results, her “worst” finish being a tie for 13th. Then her game hit a serious lull. She withdrew from the Lotte Championship, missed the cut at two California events, and finally got back on track with a T-15 at the U.S. Women’s Open.
Henderson said one uptick in her game has been her putting. Listening to her father, Dave, who is her coach, and her sister, Brit, who has been her longtime caddie, Brooke recently went left-hand-low with the putter, and she likes what she is seeing, and feeling, on the greens. She says putting “is back in my corner.”
“I’m very much a feel player, so Brit and dad worked more on the technical things,” she said. “They thought it would be a good idea, and when I did it I felt a lot more comfortable and just felt like I could make putts that way, so that’s always a good feeling.”
She says it hopes most on her shorter putts, and the way Henderson strikes it, if she gets the putter going, she often is going to contend.
That could be the case this week as she returns to a golf course where she has had success, while riding the momentum and adrenaline of winning just a few days ago. Her brother-in-law is from nearby Grand Rapids, and she will add plenty of maple-leafed support from just across the border. Not only that, but Michigan looks a whole lot like home in Canada, too.
Add it all up? Sounds pretty perfect.