By Chris Fry/PGA of Canada
In 20 years’ time, the shot people will remember from Brooke Henderson’s final round at the 2016 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is the stuffed approach she hit to three feet on the first playoff hole versus Lydia Ko.
However, Team Canada National Women’s coach Tristan Mullally will likely recall another shot the 18-year-old struck earlier in the round that signaled her ability to capture the major championship.
“On No. 11 she hits this high, cutting 3-wood,” Mullally says. “And that isn’t her stock flight at all. Her normal 3-wood flight is much lower and working from right-to-left.”
Mullally wasn’t on hand at Sahalee Country Club in suburban Seattle to on that Sunday afternoon in June to witness Henderson’s 3-wood on 11, nor her 7-iron in the playoff. He—like so many Canadians that day—was at home glued to the TV, watching Henderson’s monumental victory transpire in HD.
“As a coach, I think what I’m most proud about from her win was that when under the gun, she was able to hit the shot chose,” Mullally says.
“I’ve always said this to all our national team players: ‘it’s my job as a coach to equip you with a variety of shots, so under the gun you can choose the one that best suits that moment,’” he says. “So, when a player makes that chosen shot, they can never be wrong. It might not always work out in pressure cooker situations, but they can never fault their choice.”
At the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, the shot choices and shot execution worked out masterfully for Henderson.
In the immediate aftermath of her first major victory, there were some who argued in print that she caught some sort of lightning in a bottle. But, that’s just lazy—clearly they haven’t been paying attention to the girl from Smiths Falls, Ont., who burst onto the national team scene at as a 13-year-old and has been improving by leaps and bounds over the past five years.
“When you look back, you realize Brooke was only 13 when she entered the national team program,” Mullally recalls. “Right away her abilities were so evident, but there were also so many glaring weaknesses too.”
“For a 13-year-old she was physically really strong but was also really unstable and that posed some serious risks for injuries,” he says. “Her short game and putting were actually quite terrible too, but they never really showed because when you hit like 17 greens a round, your usually have a pretty decent scoring day.”
There’s not enough space on the page to highlight all of Henderson’s major accomplishments in the world of golf since she joined national team program in 2012, but here are a few choice wins:
For all the wins mentioned above, there’s been a constant throughout: Mullally.
A native of Ireland, the 36-year-old has been at the helm of Team Canada’s women’s program since 2012. In that time, Mullally has become a Class “A” member of the PGA of Canada, was certified as a Coach of Developing Competitor and won the 2015 Ben Kern Coach of the Year.
For all his personal accomplishments, the successes of the Team Canada program and his role in Henderson’s rise to the No. 2-ranked player in the world, Mullally remains humble and refreshingly honest.
“While I’ve been a major influence in Brooke’s game, the thing I’m most proud of is Brooke has remained Brooke,” Mullally says. “I haven’t messed with technique to make it look more classical. Everytime there’s been changes, it was about trying to hit a different type of shot, or to have her miss become constant. So, I worked away at helping her become better, but she also did her part continuing to be herself.”
Mullally and Henderson, along with three-time PGA Women’s Championship of Canada winner Alena Sharp, head to Brazil later this summer for the Summer Olympics. Mullally says his role as an Olympic coach will be very similar to his everyday role in the national program—he’ll support the pair, has the golf course mapped out and other recon initiatives already locked and loaded.
“When they get out there, they play, I don’t hit any shots,” Mullally says. “It’s about getting them prepared beforehand and dealing with the post-round adjustments when they arise,” he says, adding, “But I’m really just so excited for Brooke and Alena, I’ve watched the Olympics my entire life and it’s going to be a special experience and there is so much potential that it holds for them.”
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