Henderson has been carrying flag long before Rio
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Dec 11, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Henderson has been carrying flag long before Rio

Golf might be on the decline, but 18-year-old Canadian is on the rise


For seven or eight years, almost half of her life, Brooke Henderson, Canada’s top-ranked golfer, was a goaltender. She played on a travel team based in Smiths Falls, Ont., an hour’s drive from Ottawa, and admired Tim Thomas: “I like the way he played — kind of unorthodox, but I loved it.”

And so it was on Thursday, during an informal scrum with reporters in a Toronto hotel, that Henderson reverted to some old hockey habits. Every time a question was asked, she would turn, square herself to the shooter, focus and, when necessary, throw a poke-check.

Golf will return to the Olympics, in Rio, following an absence of 112 years, but the game seems to have lost ground. Tiger Woods is old and injured, and in Canada, Mike Weir is returning from a self-imposed hiatus, ranked 668th in the world. There has been talk that Glen Abbey, the hallowed course in Oakville, will be redeveloped into housing.

In April, The Economist ran an item headlined “Why golf is in decline in America.”

“I think it’s much stronger, especially in the women’s game,” Henderson said, in a polite verbal poke-check. “There’s a lot of young girls coming up . . . and it’s a lot stronger. It’s almost like a new wave is coming through, where all these girls are coming up and the people behind us are even better.”

Henderson is only 18 years old, and only four months removed from her first career win on the LPGA tour, an eight-stroke romp of the field in Portland, Oregon. She was speaking to reporters on Thursday as part of a preparation summit with the Canadian Olympic Committee, with prospective Olympians gathered in the same downtown hotel.

She was only 17 years old when she won in Portland — the third-youngest in tour history to win an event — and she went on to post four more top-25 finishes. She is now ranked 18th in the world, the highest of any Canadian on either the men’s or women’s tours.

“So many people come up to me and say that, ‘I don’t even like golf, but I love watching you on TV, I love watching you and my little kids are now playing golf,’ ” she said. “And that really hits home. I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s really incredible that I’m inspiring all these young people.’ ”

And some older people, too, she added.

“I think that’s great,” Henderson said, “because it’s building the game of golf, not only in Canada, but all around the world.”

That would reverse a trend that has taken root in the United States. Last month, The New York Times, citing the National Golf Foundation, reported close to 650 golf courses had closed in the U.S. over the last decade. Around five million golfers have given up the game over that same time period, according to The Economist.

In Portland, Henderson became the first Canadian in more than a decade to win an LPGA event, since a 2001 win by Lorie Kane. She will likely be discussed during voting for the Lou Marsh Trophy, awarded annually to Canada’s top athlete.

Heading into only her second season, she is poised to become the golfer shown most often on Canadian sports highlight shows. Olympics or no Olympics, she could become the flag-bearer for the sport in this country.

“Being able to travel the world, everywhere I go, people want a piece of me,” she said, “which is awesome.”

She was wearing a red Canadian Olympic T-shirt as she spoke, in an antechamber on the third floor of a hotel buzzing with elite amateur athletes. Henderson is professional now, but is eager to compete at the Olympic tournament in August.

“That’s something that’s hard to put words to, on how that feels,” she said. “I love my country, I love being Canadian. And I love being able to represent and hear from Canada every time I step on that tee box.”

In the 1904 St. Louis Games, in what would be golf’s final Olympic appearance, George Lyon, a Canadian, won the gold medal. That makes Canada the defending champion, Henderson joked.

“Standing on that podium,” she said, “that would be remarkable.”

Toronto Star

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