Led by star Brooke Henderson and following a trail blazed by Lorie Kane, women’s golf in Canada is in the midst of a youth movement.
Henderson, an 18-year-old from Smiths Falls, Ont., is ranked No. 3 in the world. She leads a contingent of 16 Canadians competing at the LPGA’s Canadian Open this week, with only three of them over the age of 30.
At 51, Charlottetown’s Kane is a legend who was recently added to the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. The other veterans on the team are 35-year-old Hamilton native Alena Sharp — who competed in the Rio Olympics alongside Henderson — and 32-year-old Samantha Richdale of Kelowna, B.C.
“I really think we’ve become more of a one-sport nation,” said Kane, who was 29 when she turned professional in 1996.
“Families are keeping their kids in one sport rather than what I grew up with in being a multi-sport child.”
Henderson isn’t even the youngest Canadian competing this week. That honour belongs to 17-year-old amateur Brigitte Thibault of Rosemere, Que., who earned a spot in her first LPGA Tour event by qualifying this week.
Kane believes that having youth focus on one sport — like Henderson and Thibault have — has them developing into more well-rounded players earlier in their lives.
“I played everything and I spent my six months playing golf and then I put my clubs away and played a bunch of other sports. I don’t see that happening now,” said Kane on Thursday.
“It’s probably good for golf and as a result we’re getting better results, if you use Brooke as the example, and then all the other national team program kids.”
Sharp said in her case it just took longer to find her game after turning pro in 2003.
“I’m just getting out there and getting after it,” Sharp said. “At the pro-am party Lorie (Kane) said, ‘stop saying it’s taken you 11 years to do it. Just look at my accolades when I started winning. I was about your age’. I feel like I’m on the cusp of winning.”
Jennifer Ha of Calgary, at age 22, is playing in her third Canadian Open and is also a graduate of the national team program. She said the professional circuit has been a learning experience.
“I think every player goes through that moment of doubt and saying like, ‘oh, is this really for me?’ But then there’s those moments when you make the top 10 and you’re like ‘alright, I’m right back in it,'” Ha said.
“The money in the tour is not great but it’s a learning device. It just builds my experience.”
Naomi Ko of Victoria is another talented amateur who just turned 19 and earned an exemption to compete in the Canadian Open.
She said the success of Henderson, who won her first professional tournament at 15, and Lydia Ko, who is 19 and ranked number one in the world, is an inspiration for younger golfers coming up.
“It kind of gives me a way to give myself a chance and know if they can do it I have a chance to succeed like they do,” she said.