RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — At first look, Brooke Henderson and Lexi Thompson are two sides of the identical coin: lengthy, blonde ponytail, terrifying clubhead pace, one main championship victory on the resume with a bunch of different shut calls. Via three rounds at this ANA Inspiration, they’ve performed a really related recreation, relentlessly attacking the lengthy, slim setup at Mission Hills Nation Membership.
With a Saturday 65 – the low spherical of the day – Henderson has roared right into a share of the lead at 12-under, alongside Nelly Korda, who overcame a tough entrance 9 with three birdies down the stretch. Thompson is 2 photographs again, establishing a Sunday shootout with three of the LPGA’s largest stars. Would-be spoilers embody Stacy Lewis (8-under) and Danielle Kang (7-under). However for all of the starpower on the leaderboard, Brooke and Lexi would be the most compelling protagonists, partially due to their variations. They’re fireplace and ice; Henderson burns so sizzling, “it could actually sometimes convey her down as a result of she needs it so badly,” says her sister/caddie, Brittany. Thompson, maybe as a result of she was in a evident highlight at such a younger age, offers away virtually nothing on the course, providing the identical tight smile seemingly regardless of how any given shot seems. She usually speaks in Zen koans: “You’ll be able to’t management anything however your feelings and your recreation, in order that’s actually all you must give attention to.”
Maybe the largest distinction between Henderson, 23, and Thompson, 25, is that the previous appears so comfy in her pores and skin whereas the latter continues to be struggling to search out herself. Brooke is Canada good, God-fearing and as candy as maple syrup. “Typically you surprise if anybody could be so down-to-earth and well mannered and pleasant,” Brittany Lincicome says. “She’s only a actually good particular person. She appears happiest when she’s along with her dad and mom and her sister. You by no means see Brit or Brooke with out seeing the opposite one. I’d kill my caddie if we spent that a lot time collectively.”
Brittany Henderson, six years the elder, was a terrific participant in her personal proper, incomes a spot in Coastal Carolina’s Corridor of Fame. Making an attempt to maintain up along with her massive sis, Brooke discovered to swing exhausting, which has led to probably the most awe-inspiring motion this aspect of the younger John Daly. She was 12 the primary time she beat Brittany, and as a 14 year-old beginner, Brooke received a professional occasion on the Canadian Girls’s Open. “I used to be type of in shock,” Brittany says. “It was unbelievable that she received so good so quick. But it surely was nice as a result of we may maintain pushing one another.”
Brittany chased the dream on the Symetra Tour however may by no means shake an aching homesickness. “It was fairly lonely,” she says. “It was a grind and a tough life if you’re out by your self touring round. When Brooke earned her card, it felt proper to exit collectively and do it that approach. It was much more enjoyable being on tour collectively as a result of we’ve at all times been finest buddies.”
Brooke was solely 17 when she received her first LPGA occasion, and the next season she bagged a serious championship, the Girls’s PGA Championship, in an exhilarating playoff versus then-number one Lydia Ko. Seven extra victories have adopted as Henderson has develop into the LPGA’s preeminent bomb-and-gouger, hitting driver on just about each gap. Even at Mission Hills, with its skinny fairways and grabby tough, Henderson is launching a dozen drivers a spherical, eschewing it on the sixth and 10th holes solely as a result of she runs out of fairway. (On Saturday, she performed a trademark driver-off-the-deck on the par-5 ninth gap, establishing a simple birdie.)
On Sunday, Henderson has an opportunity to reply two weighty questions: Can such a hyper-aggressive model succeed on the penal setups of the main championships, and may this sweetheart management the hearth inside? “It’s undoubtedly a journey,” she stated of her on-course mood. “I feel it’s somewhat bit backwards and forwards each single week. Undoubtedly making an attempt to be somewhat bit extra affected person out on the course, possibly not be fairly as exhausting on myself. However undoubtedly attempt to at all times push ahead and attempt to be somewhat bit higher and make birdies.”
Thompson’s challenges are additionally metaphysical. Since turning professional at 15, she has had an advanced relationship with the sport that has introduced her fame and fortune. In 2018, she withdrew from the Girls’s British Open and took a sabbatical from the tour to give attention to her psychological well being, writing in an Instagram publish, “I’ve not really felt like myself for fairly a while,”
Says Stacy Lewis, a low-key mentor, “She missed out on quite a lot of life experiences turning professional so early. These are essential years on your growth. However I’ve seen some constructive modifications currently. She’s lastly doing stuff that’s fully her personal, and I can see how pleased that makes her. That has to translate to the golf course.”
Two weeks in the past, Thompson reunited with Jim MacLean, her girlhood swing coach, who has helped her return to her pure ball flight, a good draw, whereas different instructors tried to get her to play a fade. “I’m not combating it anymore,” Thompson says, somewhat poignantly. This week, she additionally had a brand new caddie, new putter and new placing grip. Thompson lately parted methods along with her career-long administration company and on the eve of the Dinah unveiled a brand new private brand. These are all constructive steps towards extra self-determination, however the veterans on tour nonetheless fret a participant who has grown up earlier than their eyes.
“It blows my thoughts when she says she’s going to retire younger as a result of she has a lot expertise,” Lincicome says. “I do know it hasn’t been simple for her. She lets issues eat at her an excessive amount of. She simply must be taught to roll with issues and never take them to coronary heart a lot. She reads all of the social media stuff, and that doesn’t assist as a result of she’s undoubtedly gotten herself in some pickles. However she’s too good to let these items lavatory her down. She has a lot expertise. She must get out of her personal approach and play free.”
The Dinah Shore is the final word take a look at for Thompson. When she received right here in 2014, at 19, it appeared like the beginning of a brand new epoch. But it surely’s been nothing however heartbreak since then, together with top-five finishes in three of the previous 4 years. On Saturday, she hit 17 greens in regulation, however a chilly putter saved her from going deep. Nonetheless, Thompson allowed herself to dream somewhat bit. “It might imply the world to me to win one other main,” she stated.
It’s not even in regards to the trophy itself; the satisfaction would come from lastly doing it her personal approach. Similar goes for Henderson. “Brooke is at all times going to be Brooke,” her sister says. “She’s at all times true to herself.”
What makes main championship golf so compelling is that it’s an X-ray of the soul. The ultimate spherical of this Dinah Shore figures to be much more revealing than standard.