For nearly two months, Brooke Henderson has been at her Florida home playing a little golf, working with her coach, and when it was still going on, she caught a little MLB spring training action.
The one thing she hasn’t done is compete on the LPGA Tour, as the golf world navigates unprecedented times with the global outbreak of COVID-19.
Henderson, Canada’s winningest golfer on either the PGA or LPGA Tour and a gold-medal favourite at the Tokyo Olympics this summer – assuming they continue as planned – will not tee it up again until at least early April.
The Honda LPGA Thailand and the HSBC Women’s World Championship were cancelled on Feb. 10 while the Volvik Founders Cup, the Kia Classic, and the ANA Inspiration will be rescheduled per an announcement on March 12.
“This is a difficult situation and as we navigate these uncertain times, we appreciate the support of all those involved with the LPGA. I am fully committed to rescheduling these important events on our 2020 schedule, especially our first major, the ANA Inspiration,” said LPGA commissioner Mike Whan.
The schedule change means Henderson, who took a pass on the two events in Australia that preceded the events in Asia, will not play on the LPGA Tour for 80 days.
The time between the final event of 2019 on the LPGA Tour and the first round of the opening event of 2020 was just 53 days.
Henderson will be the defending champion when the LPGA Tour is scheduled to return at the LOTTE Championship in Hawaii on April 15.
“It was a great call by the LPGA to cancel those events. We’re grateful for that,” said Henderson after the Asian events were cancelled, one of a whirlwind of recent decisions made in the golf world.
On the PGA Tour, The Players Championship was cancelled after the first round. Later that same night, the PGA Tour released a statement saying the next three tournaments would be cancelled as well.
The Masters was supposed to be the next event on the schedule, but Fred Ridley, the chairman of Augusta National, said in a statement the tournament would be postponed.
“It’s the right thing to do right now,” 2003 Masters winner Mike Weir told Sportsnet. “As an athlete you’re disappointed because you feel good and you want to get out there and compete. At the same time, it’s fine. Golf is golf and health is much more important. Our families are much more important. We have to be smart about this.”
Henderson, meanwhile, finished T4 at the first event of the year on the LPGA Tour and followed that up with a T15 the next week the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio in late January. She missed the two Australian tournaments last year due to illness and decided to not play in them again in 2020.
She told Sportsnet that it was a day-to-day decision on whether or not the LPGA Tour was going to cancel the two Asian events, so when asked if she would have played in Australia if she knew she’d have such a lengthy layoff, she said “possibly” but that it “was too hard to know.”
During those two initial weeks, Henderson was preparing to head to Asia as if the tournaments would be played. Her team – including her caddie/sister Brittany and coach/father Dave – were keeping an eye on the updates from Asia, and Henderson said the LPGA’s decision was appropriate. She did take a bit of a breather immediately after finding out there would be an extra two-week break.
Henderson said she had been hitting it “really well,” but knows there is some time still to go before she tees it up again – and health is paramount.
Prior to the announcement that the next three events on the LPGA Tour’s schedule would be cancelled, Henderson said her days were spent in a comparable way to the “regular” off-season: she would practice in the morning, play a round through midday, and work out in the afternoon.
There wasn’t much Henderson had to work on through the off-season but she did acknowledge there are areas she could stand to improve.
Henderson was 10th on the LPGA Tour in 2019 in driving distance, 14th in greens in regulation, third in scoring average, and second in total birdies. All that added up to US$1.69 million earned and a firm hold on a top-10 spot in the world.
If there was one area that has held her back it has been her putting. However, she jumped from 72nd on the LPGA Tour in putting average in 2018 all the way to 34th, a sign things got better year-over-year.
Henderson is a bit of a victim of how much golf she plays, which is why people are usually left wondering why she isn’t closer to No.1 in the world.
Jin Young Ko, who has that No.1 spot, played only 22 times last year and hasn’t teed it up yet in 2020. Henderson played 27 times last year.
But the 22-year-old is very much that young. She said with a laugh she felt like a veteran sometimes on the LPGA Tour – 2020 is her fifth full season already – but health-wise she’s at the top of her game.
Now she’s just wondering when her next chance to showcase that game will be.
“Health and safety is always the priority, especially at this time,” said Henderson. “I appreciate the LPGA’s decision and look forward to getting back to action.”