Each week throughout the year we will spotlight one Epson Tour player and provide an in depth look into her life - both on and off the course. Up next in "This week is all about..." series is Brittany Henderson.
Before Brittany Henderson could play her first golf round, she had to meet the criteria established by her father, David. The tiny blonde tagged along with Dad at Smiths Falls Golf & Country Club in Ontario, Canada. For every shot that Dad hit, Brittany had to reach that spot in two.
“It took a couple of months to do that,” Brittany said. “I was 9 when I was able to go on the course and play.”
That dedication is emblematic of the love Canada has for golf. Despite a six-month season – at best – golf is Canada’s largest participatory sport, with nearly 5.7 million enthusiasts and 60 million rounds played annually.
In Smith Falls, a small community of 9,000 inhabitants approximately one hour south of Ottawa, golf has an even deeper meaning. David Henderson, a former hockey goalie at the University of Toronto under the tutelage of legendary coach Mike Keenan, became a school teacher and passed down the sport to his daughters. Brittany, his oldest daughter, is now a rookie on the Epson Tour. Brooke, the former No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, turned pro at age 17 last December and finished a career-best third at the LPGA’s Swings Skirts LPGA Classic last week in San Francisco.
The attention to the siblings’ ascent to pro golf has taken other Canadian women along for the ride. By late April, Sue Kim of British Columbia and Augusta James of Ontario had won in consecutive weeks on the Epson Tour and four of the top 11 players on the money list hail from Canada.
Henderson currently ranks 11th on the money list, one over the breaking point for earning a 2016 LPGA card.
“It seems like it’s happened all of a sudden,” Henderson, 24, said. “We have a great group of good players who are having the opportunity to show what they’ve got.”
Brittany’s golf path was influenced by family trips to Myrtle Beach, S.C., long considered the “Golf Capital of the World” with approximately 100 courses over a 60-mile span in northeastern South Carolina. During multiple family vacations there, Brittany learned about Coastal Carolina University and not only its golf program but the professional golf management major. She earned multiple Big South Conference all-star and Academic All-America honors at the school most famous for producing PGA Tour star Dustin Johnson.
“I knew I wanted to play professionally, but even if that didn’t work out I wanted to somehow be involved in the game otherwise,” Brittany said. “That was definitely the deciding factor for me in picking to go to school there. Plus, I could play in the middle of the winter in Myrtle Beach without missing a day. I was pretty used to playing golf in the cold.”
After graduating with a golf management degree in December 2013, Brittany turned pro a few months before her sister, played in some Canadian professional events and worked and gave lessons at Smiths Falls. She has gone head to head with Brooke this season, finishing second to her in two Florida mini-tour events and tying for second with her in a Epson Tour event at the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic in late March at Ft. Myers, Fla.
“It’s kind of weird playing against her because in college I never competed against her,” Henderson said. “It’s also kind of cool. We always played matches growing up but never in a formal setting. Having that challenge every day is important. It helps us prepare.”
The sisters share a winter home in Florida and will serve as each other’s caddies when one has an off week.
“I love when she's on my bag,” Brooke said. “She's one of my best friends and she knows my game just as well as I do.”
That partnership will be unusual this year, as Brittany moves through the Carolinas portion of the Epson Tour schedule in May and Brooke focuses on the LPGA. Brooke qualifed on Monday in Dallas for the Volunteers of America North Texas Shootout and planned to do so again for the Kingsmill Championship in Williamsburg, Va., in mid-May. She has sponsor exemptions for the ShopRite LPGA Classic and the Manulife LPGA Classic in early June, a tournament only four hours from Smiths Falls.
But there will be a special meeting at home this summer. The sisters’ first pro-am, titled the Team Henderson 110% Pro-Am, is slated for Monday, June 15, followed later that week by a Canadian Women’s Tour event at Smiths Falls Golf & Country Club.
“We’ll probably be separated here for a bit,” Henderson said. “But, for sure, we’re looking forward to playing at home. We get a lot of support there.”