Editor's note: This story was originally published August 26, 2016. It has been updated following her win at the 2018 CP Women's Open.
Brooke Henderson is a seven-time winner on the LPGA Tour.
This most Canadians – golf fans and non-fans alike – probably know.
Brooke Henderson is also a former hockey champion.
Before the 20-year-old Henderson became the first Canadian in 45 years to win on home soil at the CP Women’s Open, she was a goaltender for the Smiths Falls Cubs for six seasons.
“My favourite hockey memory is probably when we won provincials,” she says. “It wasn’t A level, but it was B and the next year we won bronze in BB. I come from a very small town of 9,000 people, so for us to do that together and go through that long journey [was special]. That one season we won every single game and won six tournaments. It was a lot of fun and it taught me how fun winning was.”
Initially a figure skater, Henderson was eight when someone with the Smiths Falls Girls Hockey Association asked if she’d be interested in being the team’s goalie. Probably figured she’d be a natural: her dad, Dave, had been a goaltender for the CJHL’s Nepean Raiders and OHL’s Ottawa 67s. He also played for the University of Toronto, under head coach Mike Keenan.
Henderson, for her part, was looking to try something different.
“I loved [playing hockey] right away,” she says. “I built so many amazing friendships and my teams did pretty well. We had a lot of victories and some losses, but we took it together as a team. It really taught me a lot in many other sports.”
Henderson had already been golfing for five years by the time she took up hockey and enjoyed having a competitive winter sport to balance out one in the summer. Neither was ever left completely behind, though, no matter what the calendar said. During downtime at the golf course, for instance, she’d set up close to a wall and throw a tennis ball against it, working on the reflexes she’d need to flash some leather come fall.
“To be a goalie you have to be a little bit strange, a little bit odd,” Henderson said at a news conference ahead of the 2015 CP Women’s Open. Adding her country’s national championship to her six LGPA titles – and a seventh-place finish at the 2016 Olympic Summer Games – meant a career goal reached, with a secondary assist going to what she learned between the pipes.
“Being a goalie there’s a lot of pressure, and I was able to handle that pretty well,” she says. “Now playing golf for a living, having that pressure as a goalie has really prepared me for every single week out on tour.”
Let in a bad goal? You need to bounce back quickly to move on and stay in the game. Miss a putt to make par? Same thing.
Goaltender can be a lonely position, even when she’s one of six people on the same side on the ice.
“Hockey’s such a team sport whereas golf is kind of more individual, so it taught me that team aspect and how important it is to work together, so now my sister is my caddy, my dad’s my coach, I have a ton of other people working with me so that I can have success out on tour. That teamwork was kind of taught to me by hockey.”
The sport not only made her mentally stronger but physically as well.
“Physically, my forearms and my legs from carrying around all the equipment all the time and being able to shoot pucks with a blocker and trapper on, it gave me a lot of strength that otherwise I might not have and you can see it in my golf swing,” she says. “I can hit the ball quite a bit farther than a lot of the other girls just because I have that hockey background.”
Henderson doesn’t have much time to get on the ice anymore. It’s been four years since her last game, but not nearly as long since her last save. When she announced her decision to turn pro in December 2014, she did so with help from her favourite NHL team. The Ottawa Senators shot a short video with Henderson in net facing shots from defenceman Mark Borowiecki, an alumnus of the CCHL’s Smiths Falls Bears.
(The video shows Henderson failing to make a single save and saying she should stick to golf; however, it took multiple takes for her to let in so many shots. “She definitely challenged a lot in the crease,” Borowiecki told the Ottawa Sun at the time. “She was out high. I had to sneak a few through five-hole. I didn’t have much to shoot at.”)
While Henderson now is unable to play hockey herself, she hopes others get on the ice and enjoy the same benefits.
“I think hockey is an incredible sport. It teaches you so many things and it’s a great way to come together as a community.”
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