Smiths Falls golfer Brooke Henderson, 15, ready for her LPGA Tour major debut at U.S. Women's Open

Smiths Falls golfer Brooke Henderson (Golf Canada)

Smiths Falls golfer Brooke Henderson (Golf Canada)

MIKE KOREN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:39 PM ET

COWANSVILLE, QUE. - The kids, even the older ones, stopped what they were doing.

Never mind trying to whack a ball further than a buddy, that could wait. There was a six-year-old to study on this day at a junior golf clinic.

"There'd be kids in Grades 4 to 8 at the range and they'd all just be watching her," Smiths Falls Golf Club head pro Paul Vaillancourt recalled, thinking back to his first significant golf memory of Brooke Henderson.

"You could see the swing then, (along with) the fire in her eyes. We all knew there was something about her."

Time sure has proven Vaillancourt right. The little, small-town girl with the big swing is now much more than that.

Just 15, Henderson will make her LPGA Tour major debut Thursday when she tees it up at the U.S. Women's Open at Sebonack Golf Club on Long Island. It's the latest in a long line of accomplishments for a teenager some already are billing as the future of Canadian women's golf.

It's been 12 years since a Canadian (Lorie Kane) has won on the LPGA Tour and just one Canuck (Sandra Post) has won a major (1968). No need to hide that drought from Canada's top-ranked amateur, though.

"The way she's driven, I'm sure she has higher expectations for herself than anyone can put on her," said Canadian golf hall of famer Mary Ann Hayward, a high-performance sport development co-ordinator for the Golf Association of Ontario.

"The really unique thing about Brooke is how much she loves the game. It looks like she'd practise and play every week if she could. I've never seen anyone love the game like I've seen it in her."

Yet behind Henderson's ever-present smile is a fierce competitor who learned the golfing ropes starting at age four from her father Dave (a good amateur in his day) and older sister Brittany (who just wrapped up a strong NCAA career at Coastal Carolina).

On the course, Henderson is a pro at keeping her emotions in check. But make no mistake, she hates losing.

Vaillancourt remembers a day at Smiths Falls when Henderson was 10.

"She three-putted the 18th to halve a match," he said. "She dragged her clubs across the parking lot and just sat there beside the car looking down. I walked over and told her 'That was a tough three-putt, but you showed some pretty good signs out there.' "

Henderson's work ethic sets her apart -- along with a natural growth spurt, she has become noticeably stronger under Golf Canada's program the past few years. A couple weeks ago, the blonde bomber wowed the gallery with her ball striking (she has LPGA distance off the tee at 250-plus yards), but struggled with her putter en route to a third-place finish at a CN Canadian Women's Tour pro event at the Cowansville Golf Club.

Afterward, she got a rare two days at home. On Day 2, Vaillancourt ran into Henderson -- on the practice green.

"She's so focused, so dedicated," Vaillancourt said of Henderson, who finally gave up hockey (she was a goalie, like her dad) this season to focus on golf. "Every goal she gets, she attains."

Henderson does this while maintaining an A average in Grade 10, keeping up with an online program provided by her teachers at Smiths Falls District Collegiate Institute. She even won a science fair with a classmate recently, doing a project on, you guessed it, how temperature affects a golf ball.

"That," Henderson chuckled, "was pretty cool."

The golf talent and academic know-how make her a natural NCAAer. She's narrowed it down to "a couple" undisclosed schools and plans to make a verbal commitment shortly.

When asked which schools want Henderson, Team Canada coach Tristan Mullally said, "Everybody who is anybody."

On the course, there is much to learn, much to practise. She's already in the record books as the youngest golfer in history to win a pro tourney and has her LPGA debut under her belt -- last year at the Canadian Women's Open near Vancouver -- but that's not good enough.

"For sure, this is a cool thing," Henderson said of the U.S Open. "Hopefully in the future, I'm able to win one."

Of course, it won't be easy. Another then-15-year-old, Lydia Ko of New Zealand, won the Canadian Women's Open last year. However, there's no rush to get to the top despite all the teen standouts -- successful pros come in all ages.

"The exciting part is that she's this good and she can get a lot better," Mullally said.

If so, who's to say she can't join Post in an exclusive Canadian club -- as a major champion.

"I remember she sat with me and (former LPGA star) Judy Rankin at a table with a couple of the other Canadian team girls (last year at the Canadian Women's Open) and she said 'I'm aiming to represent Canada at the Olympics,' " Post said. "It was so cute the way she said it, but that's exactly where her head should be.

"She's just got to keep everything in perspective and keep moving forward."

BROOKE BIO

Appeared in June 17 issue of Sports Illustrated in Faces in the Crowd, a longtime feature highlighting young athletes. Previous Faces include Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Vince Carter, Tim Tebow, Chris Evert and Michelle Wie.

Featured on TSN's Powerade 24 series, focusing on promising athletes in Canada.

2013 accomplishments include top amateur award at two CN Canadian Women's Tour events, B.C. Future Links title, South American amateur title and team title at Copa de las Americas with Team Canada in Miami.

Became youngest-ever golfer to win a pro tournament at CN Canadian Women's Tour event last year in Beloeil, Que, earning a berth in her first LPGA Tour event, the 2012 Canadian Women's Open.

Reigning Canadian junior women's champion.

BY THE NUMBERS

28: Brooke Henderson's current place in world women's amateur golf rankings.

-8: Henderson's score over 36 holes at a U.S. Women's Open qualifier last month in River Vale, N.J., good for a tie for top spot with NCAA champ Annie Park.

8: Number of Canadians in the field in the U.S. Women's Open. Henderson and Nicole Zhang of Calgary are the only two Canadian amateurs.

6,796: Course length (in yards) for Sebonack Golf Club at the U.S. Women's Open.

12: Age of Lexi Thompson in 2007 when she became the youngest player ever to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open. She's now an LPGA Tour regular with one win and seven career top-10s.

mike.koreen@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @mkor1980


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