Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Hockey And Golf Meet Again

The young lady to the left has been causing quite a stir in women's golf with her play. Brooke Henderson become the second golfer in LPGA history to go from Monday qualifier to tournament winner after taking the Cambia Portland Classic by eight strokes this past weekend. Now, you might be asking why I'm writing about a seventeen year-old golf phenom from Canada on a hockey blog, but there's a significant tie-in to the hockey world as Brooke was a goaltender when she was younger! How does this all relate? We'll take a quick peek into Brooke Henderson's brief hockey career before she rewrites the history books for the LPGA!

The story actually starts with Dave Henderson, Brooke's father. Dave is now a retired teacher, but he was goaltender for both the Ottawa 67's and the University of Toronto in the early-1980s. Dave's hockey history isn't well-documented online, but he did spend five games in 1979-80 with the Aurora Tigers of the OPJHL. The 1979-80 edition of the University of Toronto Varsity Blues went an impressive 17-2-3 to finish first in the OUAA, so it appears Dave was a key piece of that successful team!

His daughter, Brooke, followed in her dad's footsteps as she was a goaltender in the town of Smith Falls, Ontario! Brooke tended nets for a few teams growing up, but had to abandon her chosen winter sport once she made the Canadian national golf team at age fourteen. She had been playing golf since she was eleven thanks to her dad as he was one of the better golfers at the Smiths Falls Country Club. Dave would take her out to the course and allow her and older sister Brittany to play alongside dad as the two youngsters worked on their games. Dave also ran an after-school golf program called the Junior Linksters, and the Hendersons would spend their time thwacking golf balls into the twilight as dad taught golf.

Brittany, six years Brooke's senior, was accepted into Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina on a golf scholarship, and it only fueled Brooke's passion for the game. "I grew up wanting to be like my sister," Henderson told Tim Wharnsby of CBC Sports. "She was a golfer and although I skipped a step and didn't play college golf like she did I've always wanted to do what she did."

So it was a choice that Brooke had to make and golf won out over hockey. "Starting around 12 or 13, I started to feel I would love to have a career in the sport and make it to the LPGA, so I gave up playing hockey, which was tough," Henderson explained to the Globe and Mail's Rachel Brady. "But being a goalie, I faced a lot of heat sometimes and it could be stressful, so I think that has helped me on the golf course, playing with big crowds, coming down the stretch and having to finish strong."

The intertwining of hockey and golf is usually an annual April and May thing when jokes are made about teams getting ready to hit the links after failing to qualify for the playoffs, but Brooke Henderson's sporting life literally did see hockey and golf live amicably together for a short period of time. Brooke refined her golf game at an indoor golf school in Smiths Falls during the off-season while playing girls’ hockey!

"I can remember, when she was like 11 or 12, she would come into my golf school in the winter and she'd hit some balls, then sit down with a healthy snack, and get back up with a tennis ball and go throw it against the wall in the warehouse to work on her reflexes for goaltending," Paulin Vaillancourt, her coach at Smiths Falls Golf & Country Club, told Rachel Brady. "Then she'd be right back to hitting golf balls. Her work ethic was always tremendous, and she and her sister always had incredible maturity."

Brooke has kept things in perspective with her golf game by relating back to her time on the ice. "To be a goalie you have to be a little bit strange, a little bit odd," Henderson told reporters, prompting laughs during a news conference. "I think that has really helped me along the way mentally preparing for not only professional golf, but golf in general.

"A shooter coming down on you, and you have a one-goal lead, it's a lot of pressure. The whole team is counting on you. It's the same when you have a three-foot birdie putt to win a championship or make the cut. It's the same kind of pressure."

Henderson has been impressive on the course this year as she's making a name for herself among the LPGA players. Still considered an amateur after her win in Portland, Henderson has already earned $660,000 USD and seen her world ranking jump to #17. Henderson had been turned down by LPGA commissioner Michael Whan for a special exemption to get into the LPGA Tour school last year, but Whan granted her full membership on Tuesday after her impressive win in Portland. LPGA policy states that any woman 18 years of age or over is eligible to apply for Tour membership, but golfers who are between 15 and 18 may be granted special permission to apply for membership by petitioning directly to the Tour commissioner.

Today, Brooke Henderson received her LPGA card and will play on the tour! "Brooke truly earned her card, and we are looking forward to Brooke joining our Tour and our family," Whan said in a statement.

The former Smith Falls Cub never got a chance to lace up the skates as an Olympian or professional player, but she does have professional support. The Ottawa Senators sponsor Brooke, and they took time to give the netminder a chance to strap on the pads once more as former Smith Falls Bear and current Ottawa Senator Mark Borowiecki peppered Brooke with shots in a promotional video!
"I'm not a very good actor," Borowiecki admitted to Don Brennan of the Ottawa Sun. "Took a few outtakes to get that many goals, in a row, too."

Borowiecki played 99 games over two seasons as a member of the Smith Falls Bears, scoring five goals and adding 49 assists to go along with 165 PIMs before making the jump to the NCAA's Clarkson University in 2008. It was also the same season he was drafted by the Ottawa Senators 139th overall in the fifth round as they saw something in the Ottawa-born, Ontario-trained hockey player. So how did he do in testing Henderson?
Borowiecki did put a couple past Henderson in the video, but he also refused to say how many times she stopped him.

"She definitely challenged a lot in the crease," he said. "She was out high. I had to sneak a few through the five-hole. I didn't have much to shoot at."
While Brooke is committed to the University of Florida in the future, playing on the LPGA tour is certainly front-and-center for the Canadian. There will be a ton of opportunities for her on the links as she matures, but she has the drive and attitude that will carry her far on the golf course.

If and when she feels she wants to head to school in Florida, she should probably take her goalie gear with her. Who knows if the Florida Panthers will need an emergency goalie again?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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