RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif .– Brooke Henderson has always seen herself as a confident person. It was this confidence that propelled her onto the LPGA Tour at the age of 17 and made her a major champion a year later. But his struggle to return to the form that earned him such a first success has shaken that conviction.
“There are times when I’ve felt really good and played well and other times,” says Henderson as she starts to walk away, “what is golf, isn’t- not? It’s so high and low. And especially mentally, it’s so demanding.
Henderson arrives at ANA Inspiration this winless week on tour since 2019, five years after her only major win at the PGA Women’s KPMG Championship. Throughout her career, the 23-year-old has spoken about her goals every season. And as she won year after year, those goals grew. They quickly included maintaining her multiple winning streak, which she has done for four consecutive years. Then, in 2020, Henderson went without an LPGA for the first time in his career.
But 2020 has not been a normal year.
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Henderson, who averaged nearly 30 starts from 2016-19, only competed in 10 events last season. And, her father, Dave, who is also her coach, has not competed in a tournament with his daughter for over a year due to the coronavirus pandemic. He is back in Canada with his mother, Darlene, who was also unable to travel. The last event they spent together there dates back to January 2020.
“He’s always there, like virtually, always helping us out and sending us his notes that he has on every course and FaceTiming,” said Henderson. “I really regret having him and my mom here to show their support and help out on the course.”
It’s a tough consolation in a pandemic, having to rely on video calls and texts to fill the void of being able to see friends and family for months at a time. And as many have learned over the past year, nothing can replace face-to-face human contact. For Brooke, whose father arguably knows her game better than anyone, she must use virtual communication to sort through her woes and the mental challenges that have arisen during this difficult time. While Brooke’s sister and caddy Brittany has “really stepped up,” it’s not enough to fill the void left by her father’s absence, and it’s reflected in her performance over the past year.
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“Basically he’s working on the mental side, which I think is probably the most important part,” Brooke said of working remotely with her dad. “And then my sister, she’s shopping for me and also helps me a lot with the coaching aspect.”
When Henderson won twice in 2019, she placed 34th with an average of 29.63. In 2020, it fell to No.104 at 30.51. The family worked together on several different putting techniques, ways to read the greens and then find a balance that works well for the two sisters. In last week’s Kia Classic, Henderson used a new low left grip when putting the inside 10ft, which took her to a second top 10 in 2021.
“It was a big change for me,” said Henderson of the new grip. “But I feel really comfortable with it and I think I’ll keep going.”
Six months ago Henderson finished second behind Mirim Lee at ANA Inspiration. She missed an 8-foot birdie on the first extra hole to extend the playoffs. This week, she will take advantage of that experience, as well as the work she’s done, and snuggle up with her sister and their dad on FaceTime. As a family, they will come up with a plan to help Brooke navigate Mission Hills. Then comes the real test – Brooke’s ability to trust and believe in herself to perform it.
“It’s been a success for a very long time, and sometimes you see great results and sometimes not as good as you would like,” Henderson said of their work. “[I’m] just try to believe in myself a little more, trust the process of what we’re doing and just try to enjoy it.