OTTAWA — Serena Williams, perhaps the most dominant tennis player the world has seen, is playing her last Grand Slam this week at the tournament where she is most adored, the one she has won six times, eight if the we count his victories in doubles.
But the US Open is not a home game for Williams. She’s not from New York or the surrounding area. She grew up halfway across the country in Compton, California.
In his heyday, Mike Weir carried the weight of a nation on his shoulders every time he played a Canadian Open. The 2003 Masters champion came within a whisker of winning in 2004 at Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, losing in the playoffs to Vijay Singh, who looked utterly apologetic as he lifted the trophy, knowing he had helped break the collective heart of Canada.
But Weir has never played an Open within 200 kilometers of where he grew up in Bright’s Grove, Ont. In his home province, yes, but not near his hometown.
That’s what made this week in Ottawa so unique. There are few examples in the history of golf in Canada, or even in the annals of the sport, of an individual athlete of Brooke Henderson’s fame competing in an event as significant as the CP Women’s Open so close to his home.
Henderson, as you surely know, hails from Smiths Falls, Ontario, a 40-minute drive from the Ottawa Golf and Hunt Club with the pedal too deep. Residents of the town of 10,000 have been bussing here all week, as they did during the Ottawa Hunt tournament in 2017, when Henderson was in the second-to-last group on Sunday but passed out for finish tied for 12th place.
A walk along the ropes after Henderson’s band this week revealed whispers upon whispers of proud, albeit distant, ties to the 12-time LPGA Tour winner. Someone was his father’s childhood neighbor. Someone else watched her play at Smiths Falls Golf and Country Club. Another was her cousin’s babysitter.
All of this means Henderson is playing with increased support and pressure — and security details — when this tournament is in the nation’s capital. More than any of his peers on the LPGA Tour at any other event, surely. More than any Canadian on the PGA Tour during RBC Canadian Open week. More than those that preceded it.
The late Jocelyne Bourassa, of Shawinigan, Que., won the CP Women’s Open predecessor, La Canadienne, in 1973 in Montreal, where she attended university. Her victory was popular in her home province, but she was not then the national celebrity that Henderson is now.
Sandra Post of Oakville has competed twice at St. George’s Golf and Country Club in Toronto, once the week after winning in Virginia. Like Henderson, she was a top 10 player on tour and a great champion as well.
But those were different times, without the attention to athletes generated by the internet and social media today. Also, in Post’s case, the Toronto area is different from Ottawa. Bigger, less personal and less connected. Less gratification in the exploits of its exports. “Grandparent pride” is how a Golf Canada official described the feelings toward Henderson among those in the Ottawa area.
“I talk to his family a bit when I see them, and there’s nothing better than walking the golf course with his coach and his dad because you know where to stand and you know where to be to watch. . I’ve often asked him, like, ‘Wow, this can be suffocating,'” Golf Canada CEO Laurence Applebaum said Saturday. “But if you saw her on the first tee today or Thursday, she’s got it. As if she had that. It’s really, really quite a phenomenon to behold.
Henderson, 24, is handling everything as well as he can. She was smiling despite the disappointment of not having competed this week, especially given her blistering start Thursday when she was 3 under par on three holes. Her voice cracked as she addressed reporters on Saturday after a score of 2 out of 73 sent her down the rankings. It’s obvious how well she wants to play for her legion of fans here, perhaps too much for them and not enough for herself. With some prodding, the 2018 tournament winner admitted Sunday that she may have to sort things out the next time the CP Women’s Open is held in Ottawa.
And it will come back. Probably every few years, as long as Henderson stays on tour. It’s too much of a financial home run not to, as long as the prom belle is there for the weekend anyway.
So what remains to be determined through two Opens for Henderson in Ottawa is whether playing at home is an advantage or an additional obstacle to overcome.
For his part, Henderson didn’t have much of that last argument.
“I feel like when it’s so close to home in Ottawa, I really try to embrace the fans even more,” she said after a Sunday 69 tied for 49th. “I know a lot more people personally, and I think I’m just trying to be a little more engaged. So maybe it’s a little more tiring, so maybe I wouldn’t be doing this every week. , but I think a week a year is worth it.
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