After practising all week for the CP Women’s Open in hot and humid conditions, with the temperature pushing 30 C, Brooke Henderson stepped onto the first tee at 7:59 a.m. on Thursday to face a brisk, cool breeze.
But, wearing a sweater after days of short-sleeved shirts, she didn’t let the drastic change in the weather bother her. It even ended up motivating her. It put her in mind of the final round of last year’s CP Women’s Open, when she donned rain pants and a jacket to ward off the cold on a chilly summer day in Regina.
That day ended well, with Henderson running away from the field to win her national championship, just the second Canadian to do so in the event’s history.
Thursday was almost a repeat. Although the temperature had dropped only into the mid-teens, the 21-year-old superstar from Smiths Falls, Ont., shrugged off the weather and scorched Magna Golf Club in Aurora, Ont., with a six-under-par 66 that put her in the lead – and on the way to defending her title. Her advantage held up until American Annie Park passed her in the late afternoon.
"When I showed up this morning, it was really cold and windy and I was, like, uh-oh,” Henderson said behind the 18th green, shortly after making her seventh birdie of the day.
“But in the back of my head it was also sort of like Sunday last year, so I figured it might not be a bad thing.”
There was little bad in Henderson’s opening round. After saving par on the second hole by making a testy six-foot putt, she rang up four birdies over the next seven holes, which calmed her preround nerves and gave her “the feeling that I could go low possibly today.”
She did, and so did others. Park, who broke through with her first LPGA Tour victory last year, shot seven-under 65 to knock Henderson into a tie for second place.
Canadian Anne-Catherine Tanguay shared second with Henderson and three others to give the hometown fans another rooting interest. While the weather had warmed by the time she started in the afternoon, Tanguay overcome obstacles of her own. The 28-year-old from Quebec City hasn’t played in four weeks, has recently nursed back strain, had just 27 holes of practice earlier in the week and woke up Thursday with a puffy eye.
But a call to her physician, some allergy medication and an ice pack solved the problem, and she made the most of her clear vision. She rolled in long birdie putts that had her literally laughing in disbelief at some points and, on her 17th hole of the day, pumping her fist with gusto.
“On the back nine I just felt like I couldn’t miss with my putter,” said Tanguay, who’s No. 128 on the tour’s money list and needs a big week or two to retain her card. “I was over the ball and I just kind of had this feeling it might go in.”
Tanguay and Henderson were the only two in the contingent of 15 Canadians to break par. Among the Canadians in the black was 12-year-old Michelle Liu, whose nine-over 81 was still a remarkable score given her age, slight stature and the length of the course, a strapping 6,600 yards. The eighth-grader gave up at least 30 or 40 yards off the tee to her playing partners Jennifer Kupcho and Austin Ernst.
Liu, who made one birdie and no worse than double bogey, said she was “disappointed” with her score, citing a few poor club choices and bad chipping, but enjoyed the encouragement of the crowd. “They were definitely really supportive,” she said. “I think a lot of them definitely helped me to play well today.”
The local fans, including dozens of children wearing red “Brooke’s Brigade” T-shirts, pulled Henderson along, too. Her gallery lining the exquisitely manicured fairways at Magna were three- and four-people deep on many holes, which isn’t the norm on a Thursday at many LPGA Tour events.
By the 18th hole, the grandstands were mostly full as Henderson slashed an approach shot from the left rough to two feet, generating a big roar and setting up a tap-in birdie.
“Standing there on 18 and to see all the people that came out to watch her play is amazing,” said American Stacy Lewis, one of Henderson’s playing partners Thursday and a 12-time LPGA Tour winner. “It’s just really cool the way they support her here.”
Lewis, vying this week for a spot on the U.S. Solheim Cup team in addition to the CP title, shot two-under 70 and the group’s other playing partner, Minjee Lee of Australia, was one shot better.
“They were cheering for all us,” said Lee, who, like Henderson, was once the world’s top amateur before turning pro. “So I didn’t feel like it was only for Brooke. Definitely more for Brooke, but it was nice.
“Any time we have a good crowd, it’s great for the game and great for little kids. It’s just really nice that everybody comes out to support their star.”
All three in the trio were under par, maybe not surprising given their talent level and preround predictions that Magna, with its wide and plush fairways, would yield extremely low scores.
Those predictions didn’t quite come true, probably because of the unexpected wind, but good scores were still in abundance. Joining Henderson and Tanguay at six under were world No. 1 Jin Young Ko of South Korea, Nicole Broch Larsen of Denmark and LPGA rookie Pajaree Anannarukan of Thailand.