RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Brooke Henderson has always considered herself a confident person. It was that self-assurance that propelled her to the LPGA Tour as a 17-year-old and made her a major champion a year later. But her struggle to return to the form that earned such early success has chipped away at that conviction.
“There's times I've felt really great and been playing well and other times,” Henderson says as she begins trailing off, “which is golf, right? It's so up-and-down. And especially mentally, it's so demanding.”
Henderson arrives at the ANA Inspiration this week without a win on tour since 2019, five years removed from her lone major victory at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Throughout her career, the 23-year-old has been vocal about her goals each season. And as she won year after year, those goals grew. They soon included keeping her multi-win streak alive, which she did for four consecutive years. Then, in 2020, Henderson went without an LPGA for the first time in her career.
But 2020 was not a normal year.
Henderson, who averaged nearly 30 starts from 2016-19, competed in just 10 events last season. And, her father, Dave, who is also her coach, hasn’t been at a tournament with his daughter in more than a year because of the coronavirus pandemic. He’s back home in Canada with her mother, Darlene, who also hasn’t been able to travel. The last event they spent on site together was in 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,” Henderson said. “Definitely miss having my mom and him out here, to show support and helping 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 so many have learned over the last year, nothing can replace in-person, human contact. For Brooke, whose father arguably knows her game better than anyone, she must use virtual communication to sort through her putting woes and the mental challenges that have come during this trying time. While Brooke’s sister and caddie, Brittany, has “really stepped up,” it’s not enough to fill the void left by her father’s absence, and that’s reflected in her performance over this past year.
“Just virtually he's working on the mental side of it, which I think is probably the most important part,” Brooke said about working with her father remotely. “And then my sister, she caddies for me and also helps a lot with the coaching aspect, too.”
When Henderson won twice in 2019, she ranked 34th in putting average at 29.63. In 2020, she dropped to No. 104 at 30.51. The family has worked together on several different putting techniques, ways to read the greens and then finding a balance that works well for both sisters. At last week’s Kia Classic, Henderson employed a new, left-hand-low grip when putting from inside 10 feet, which lifted her to a second top-10 finish in 2021.
“That was a big change for me,” Henderson said about the new grip. “But I feel really comfortable with it and I think I'll keep it going.”
Six months ago, Henderson finished runner up to Mirim Lee at the ANA Inspiration. She missed an 8-footer for birdie on the first extra hole to extend the playoff. This week, she’ll take that experience, along with the work she’s put in, and huddle together with her sister and their father on FaceTime. As a family, they’ll carve out a plan to help Brooke navigate Mission Hills. Then, comes the true test – Brooke’s ability to trust and believe in herself to execute it.
“It's been successful for a really long time, and sometimes you see great results and sometimes not as good as you would like,” Henderson said about their work. “[I’m] just trying to believe in myself a little bit more, trust in the process of what we are doing and just trying to enjoy it.”