After she’d won her second major on Sunday, Brooke Henderson turned to her sister, who is her caddy, and bugged out her eyes in a combo of amusement and bewilderment.
By that point, even Ms. Henderson must have been a little surprised by what she’d accomplished.
She went into the final round of the Amundi Evian Championship in France with a two-shot lead. She bogeyed the first hole. She four-putted the sixth. Midway through the round, she’d fallen back to the pack and lost the lead.
But having spotted everyone a few strokes, Ms. Henderson hit the afterburners in the final stretch. By the 18th, she needed an eight-foot putt to win outright. She gave it a little knee-bend English as it was headed to the hole, but it was never missing. She won by a single stroke, 17 under par.
“The saying is that majors are won on the back nine on Sunday,” Ms. Henderson said afterward.
People do say that, but most of the people saying it never win majors.
It was hard not to see in this weekend’s finish a sort of through-a-glass-brightly version of what happened in last week’s major final, the British Open at St. Andrews, Scotland.
Like Rory McIlroy, Ms. Henderson has done everything right for years – except win the big one. It’s been six years since her major breakthrough at the Women’s PGA Championship.
Like Mr. McIlroy, she went into Sunday in the lead. Like Mr. McIlroy, she didn’t catch sight of her main competition (in this case, American long shot Sophia Schubert) until she was in danger of being lapped. Like Mr. McIlroy, she was at risk of an embarrassing fumble – losing a tournament you had in the bag to someone who’d never won anything like it.
Unlike Mr. McIlroy, Ms. Henderson didn’t fold up.
When an interviewer put it to her afterward that she hadn’t been that good on Sunday, Ms. Henderson happily agreed: “Yeah, definitely not the best today.”
And yet she’s the person holding the trophy. This is the line that separates people who are good at something from people who are great. They find a way to bend pressure to their own purposes.
Lately, pressure’s been getting some bad press. It’s no longer considered polite to ask people about it, because their being able to handle it might suggest that others can’t. A new focus on mental health in sports has got people worried about the effects of high-profile disappointment on bold-face names.
But at the professional level, this is the only substantive thing separating competitors. They’re all physically gifted. They’re all resilient (or they wouldn’t have made it this far). But only a few have the mental fortitude to get inside their opponents’ heads and start pulling wires.
You could see the results of Ms. Henderson’s late charge on Ms. Schubert’s face at the end. The American rookie was only one shot away from the win, but there was no part of her that expected things to turn out that way. She seemed happier for Ms. Henderson than Henderson seemed for herself. Maybe a part of her was relieved it was over. If so, who could blame her?
Other than the look she shared with her sister, Brittany, Ms. Henderson didn’t do much more than smile beneficently. Even the champagne shower (the real stuff, not that sparkling junk) didn’t get much of a rise out of her. She spent a lot of time trying to talk people out of hugging her because she was soaked.
“I’m just super-excited to have my second major championship win,” Ms. Henderson said. On the scale of super-excitement, the tone was somewhere between “half-day Friday” and “found a great parking spot at Costco”.
This tendency to play things cool may be a reason Ms. Henderson doesn’t get as much attention in Canada as she deserves. When Bianca Andreescu wins a major, it’s pandemonium. But Ms. Henderson? Yeah, of course she won. That’s what she does – win. It’s an instance in which an athlete might be too good at what she does.
It’s already a commonplace that Henderson is the most accomplished golfer in Canadian history, pipping Mike Weir.
Sunday’s win puts her in a class of one. Along with the two majors, she has 12 tour victories over all. Those are already Hall of Fame numbers.
Because she’s been so good, so consistently, it feels as though Ms. Henderson’s been around forever, though she’s only 24. While being widely admired, she has somehow managed the trick of being underappreciated.
But maybe Ms. Henderson is about to get the run of headlines she deserves.
In the spring, she missed a couple of cuts. Rather than continue scuffling, she went home and took several weeks off to get her head straight. Not quite two months into her mini-comeback, she’s on top of the game again.
It’s a good time of year to excel at sports. Not much is happening. People are generally idle. Many are looking for something to do. How about getting super-excited about golf?
The LPGA Tour now moves to Britain from France. Until Sunday, Ms. Henderson had never won a tournament in Europe. Maybe she’s beginning her own Grand Tour.
In a month, Ms. Henderson will be back in Canada.
It’s been three years since the CP Women’s Open was held. Henderson last made national front pages when she won this tournament in 2018. No Canadian has won it twice.
If Ms. Henderson plans to capitalize on some jingoistic momentum, this would be the time to do it. A few good days could turn her from Canada’s favourite golfer to Canada’s biggest athlete, full stop.
You shouldn’t say such things out loud. It creates too much expectation, too many unfair opportunities to fail an arbitrary test. But Sunday proved again that Ms. Henderson’s real forte isn’t golf. It’s doing things people have no right expecting her to do.