Posted by: Mike Cornelius | August 26, 2018

O Canada! Oh Brooke!

The U.S. Open and Women’s U.S. Open, the Open Championship and Women’s British Open – those are the four national golf championships that garner worldwide attention. The two men’s tournaments represent one-half of each year’s majors for male golfers, while the women’s events are two of the five majors for females, the Women’s British Open having achieved recognition as a major in 2001. But many other golf federations, the governing bodies of the sport in countries around the globe, stage national championships as well.

The Emirates Australian Open is the PGA Tour of Australasia’s oldest and most prestigious tournament. In addition to the two men’s majors, seven other national championships are part of the European Tour’s annual schedule. From India, Spain and China in the spring, to Italy, France and Scotland in high summer, and on to the Netherlands as the calendar turns to autumn, the golfers of the European Tour are rarely more than a few weeks away from competing for a country’s title. And for all the difficulties the Ladies European Tour has faced in recent years, its limited schedule still includes the championships of Scotland and France, in addition to the Women’s British Open.

Though the events operate in the shadow of the two U.S. Opens, most countries in this hemisphere also have their national tournaments. Two of the most prestigious are played on the other side of our northern border. The RBC Canadian Open is only a few years younger than its American counterpart, having first been played in 1904. Originally staged at the Royal Montreal Golf Club, the tournament has been held at a variety of venues across the breadth of Canada, with Glen Abbey Golf Course in Ontario the most frequent host since it was built in 1975 as the home of Golf Canada, the country’s equivalent of the USGA. Named for the Canadian Pacific Railway that became the tournament’s prime sponsor in 2014, the CP Women’s Open is much younger, having first been played in 1973. Like its counterpart for men, the event has long been part of the LPGA’s annual schedule.

Recognition by the top men’s and women’s tours has brought strong fields, television contracts, and a much higher level of recognition to the two Canadian championships than would otherwise be the case. But the presence of many of the best golfers in the world has had one notable downside. While Canadian men won seven of the first eleven Opens, after Karl Keffer captured his second title in 1914, it would be forty years before the next Canadian winner. Tommy Armour, Walter Hagen, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson and many other Americans won the Open, as did a handful of golfers from other countries.

It was not until Pat Fletcher finished off a four-stroke victory at Vancouver’s Point Grey Golf and Country Club in 1954 that Canada’s national championship was finally won once more by a native son. Even more striking is that sixty-four years later, Fletcher remains the most recent Canadian winner. Mike Weir in 2004 and David Hearn in 2015 came agonizingly close, but both fell short. Last month at Glen Abbey world number one Dustin Johnson fired four rounds in the 60s to ease his way to a three-shot win. Eight strokes back, in a tie for eighth place, Mackenzie Hughes was the low Canadian.

While its history is shorter, the record at the CP Women’s Open is even worse. Jocelyne Bourassa, then 26-years-old and in only her second year on tour, won the inaugural event in 1973. That first Open, known then as La Canadienne, was played over 54 holes at Montreal Municipal Golf Club. Bourassa prevailed in a sudden death playoff against Sandra Haynie and Judy Rankin, winning with a birdie on the third extra hole. It was her only LPGA Tour win, but it remains historic. Because as the years rolled on, as the tournament went through a series of name changes reflecting different sponsors, as it gained major status on the Tour in 1979 and then lost it after the 2000 playing (in favor of the Women’s British Open), and as its trophy was lifted by Americans like Rankin, Pat Bradley and Meg Mallon, and by international stars like Karrie Webb, Annika Sorenstam, and Lydia Ko, Jocelyne Bourassa was still the only Canadian woman to win her country’s national championship.

Until this weekend. With an entire country rooting her on, 20-year-old Brooke Henderson lurked near the top of the leader board for the first two rounds, moved one shot clear of the field on Saturday, and then stormed to victory on Sunday with her best score of the tournament. The closing 65 gave Henderson a four-round total of 21-under 267, four shots better than American Angel Yin. At five feet four inches Henderson packs enormous power into a diminutive frame. She averaged 286 yards off the tee and finished the tournament by striping one more long drive down the 18th fairway. Her short iron approach settled three feet from the pin. When the putt found the bottom of the cup the large crowd around the final green at Wascana Country Club in Regina, Saskatchewan roared its approval, even as Henderson hugged her sister and caddie Brittany and her father ran onto the putting surface to douse them both with champagne.

The victory was Henderson’s second of the year, making her one of just three multiple winners so far this LPGA season. It was secured in the middle holes of the back nine, when she ran off four straight birdies to open daylight from the field. It was also her seventh career title, a number that includes one major, the 2016 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Given that she won’t turn 21 until next month, Henderson seems certain to surpass fellow Canadians Weir and George Knudson on the PGA Tour, and Sandra Post on the LPGA, all of whom had eight career victories.

But many years and untold victories from now, when her LPGA career is over, she will surely look back on this win with special pride. After a summer in which she lost both of her grandfathers, it would have been entirely understandable if Henderson was distracted. Over a week in which the red and white clad fans were cheering her name from dawn to dusk, it would have unsurprising if the pressure of expectations proved too much. Instead she drew strength from her family and rode the wave of adoration to a triumph that an entire country celebrated.

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