To watchswing a driver is to watch abstract art in motion.
The 20-year-old Canadian wunderkind, who already has six LPGA Tour victories, has gained nearly 10 yards per knock with the big stick this year alone, and, despite standing just 5-foot-4, is in the top 10 in driving distance on the LPGA Tour alongside many who are nearly six inches taller.
Henderson takes the club way past parallel (think John Daly with a ponytail) – so much so that the head of her driver almost points at the ground before she starts her transition to her downswing.
From there, it’s all about lag and timing. If you pause Henderson’s swing on video just before she makes impact, her arms and club make a “V” against her body.
Her timing has to be perfect, which explains why she’s more middle of the pack with respect to driving accuracy. But when she gets a hold of one, patrons stop and take notice.
“Sometimes it’s hard to believe that’s what my swing actually looks like, but I do like to look at it,” Henderson told theScore with a smile.
A premium will be placed on her driving at this week’s U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek Golf Club just outside Birmingham, Ala., as the course will play long and tough, with a tropical storm set to blow through the area Tuesday and Wednesday.
But a long golf course made longer should suit Henderson just fine.
She said the power she generates comes from her core and lower body, developed as a youngster when she played goalie for a hockey team in Smiths Falls, Ontario (a town of about 8,000 people roughly 90 minutes from Ottawa).
Henderson admitted there are a lot of moving parts in her swing, and said her desire to hit it far came from wanting to outdrive her older sister, Brittany Henderson.
“She’s six years older than me and she was always taller, always bigger, always stronger … and I was always trying to still compete (with her),” Brooke said. “I found something that worked. I found power and I knew how to get it out there just as far as her. I wasn’t really thinking about it.”
Brittany, a pro golfer in her own right who went to Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., put her playing dreams on hold three years ago to become her younger sister’s full-time caddie.
The pair has become a force on the LPGA Tour – and, since Brooke turned professional at just 18, it was good for her to have some support while she learned the ins and outs of professional golf.
Brittany is a big fan of Brooke letting the big dog eat, if you will.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a decision where I said, ‘No, don’t hit driver,’ when she wanted to,” Brittany said. “We pretty much reach the decision together, but it’s usually ‘yes’ with the driver.”
Brooke is averaging more than 270 yards off the tee this year, good for seventh on the LPGA Tour – and an increase from 263 yards the last two seasons. She hits about 72 percent of her fairways (down from 73 percent a year ago, but up from 68 percent her first year on Tour) but sometimes that’s part of the strategy, according to her father (and teacher), Dave Henderson.
Dave said that after analyzing a course, they’re often comfortable with cutting a corner on a particular hole and ending up in some rough that won’t hinder Brooke too much versus playing it “safe” and finding the fairway but leaving herself a longer approach in.
“If the rough is too long or the grain is running against you, if there are bunkers with high faces … it’s not worth the risk,” he said. “Otherwise, we’ll cut the corner. When she has an advantage, we’d like to take advantage of it.
“Her stats are going to be down on fairways hit, but that’s part of our strategy to get to our goal.”
Ahead of Brooke’s victory at the Lotte Championship in Hawaii earlier this year, Brittany said she picked out some fairly aggressive lines while scouting the course. She knew she wouldn’t be worried about going for it. Brooke picks out lines many on the LPGA Tour wouldn’t think of, Brittany said. She just doesn’t lay up.
“A couple of times the people we were playing with were like, ‘Wow, what just happened?'” Brittany recalled. “We’re able to monitor (the wind or the conditions) and take some aggressive lines, which usually works out well.”
Dave, who was a teacher in Smiths Falls for 30 years, was the first one to notice Brooke had the ability to “feel” the driver and hit it a long way.
It was him who got her hitting the longer-shafted club. Brooke chokes down on a 48-inch driver, while almost every other professional golfer uses a driver that’s about 43 or 44 inches long. He said it’s just always worked for her.
“She was one of those exceptions. It shows with her stats that she is able to hit it straighter and longer. She’s used it from a very early age,” he said, admitting he stopped playing after his youngest daughter began hitting it 20 yards past him.
Scott Wolpa is the LPGA Tour rep for Ping, which has sponsored Brooke since she turned professional. He said the biggest challenge when making a club that’s nearly four inches longer than usual is to make sure it’s balanced.
With Brooke gripping down nearly three inches on the shaft, the swing weight drops considerably, according to Wolpa, which is why she’s able to swing it faster than 100 mph.
“With that speed comes the need to prioritize accuracy, and with a light-weight X-flex shaft, she can be aggressive through impact, trusting the shaft-and-head combo will be stable with her long swing arc,” he said.
Although Brooke has gone through “like 20” putters since she’s turned professional, she’s only used about four different driver models, essentially just using the latest models from Ping (her current setup, per Wolpa: PING G400, 9-degrees, 48-inches, Tour AD-TP 5 X shaft, PING iD-8 360 Aqua grip, D8 swing weight). She said the one she’s currently gaming is the best she’s ever hit.
But it’s not just about the club.
Brooke doesn’t work with a trainer, but she said she’s focused on strengthening her leg muscles and core to hit it even further. The timing of her swing, she said, is the key to continued success off the tee.
The U.S. Women’s Open is usually the hardest test of golf on the LPGA Tour, and Shannon Rouillard, the director of the U.S. Women’s Open Championship, toldit has narrowed several fairways in order to place a premium on accuracy.
But power on the 6,689-yard course will still be important, and Brooke has that in spades thanks to her unusual but effective swing.
“She has a unique swing, but it’s so athletic that you can’t really mess with it too much,” said Brittany. “It’s not necessarily textbook, but it works.”
Adam Stanley has written about golf since 2011 for PGATOUR.com, LPGA.com, and the Canadian Press, among other organizations. He’s also a frequent contributor to The Globe and Mail. Find him on Twitter.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)
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