Canadian teen Brooke Henderson figures to contend at Kingsmill

.@BrookeH_Golf finished one shot out of a playoff at LPGA tournament in San Francisco last month

JAMES CITY — Take a deep breath, because just reading about Brooke Henderson's recent travels is going to wear you out. The railroad portion of "Planes Trains and Automobiles" is missing, but certainly not the adventure.

In short, Henderson's 1:43 p.m. tee time Thursday for the Kingsmill Championship's first round seems only humane after the last few weeks, a stretch that stamps her a legitimate contender here and affirms the hype surrounding her limitless future.

Let's start near San Francisco late last month, when this 17-year-old Canadian led the Swinging Skirts Classic after the second and third rounds, only to finish one shot out of a playoff that pitted two of her mentors, Morgan Pressel and eventual winner Lydia Ko.

Rather than sulk after her Sunday 74, or bask in the six-figure payday, Henderson rushed to the airport for a flight to Dallas, where she was scheduled to compete in a Monday qualifier for the North Texas Shootout. Eight hours and several delays later, she took off at 4 a.m. and landed in Dallas at 9 a.m.

Henderson didn't have to rush to make her 2 p.m. tee time, but there was no time for a mani-pedi either. With five holes remaining, play was suspended for the day due to weather, forcing competitors back to the course Tuesday morning. Henderson completed her round and then prevailed in a two-hole playoff for the tournament's final spot.

A second-round 65 vaulted Henderson into the lead, and weekend scores of 71 and 73 left her tied for 13th, goosing her season earnings to $161,557 in just three events. Were she a full-fledged Tour member — the LPGA denied her petition to waive the 18-year-old age requirement — Henderson would be 29th on this year's money list, ahead of Karrie Webb, Suzann Pettersen, Paula Creamer and Michelle Wie, major champions all.

With the circuit idle the following week, surely a break was in order, right? Uh, no.

"So I flew back to Toronto, Ontario, for a media day for the (LPGA) ManuLife Classic," Henderson said Wednesday. "So I did media day on Monday, and Monday night I drove (three-plus hours) back home to my hometown and slept in my own bed for one night.

"Then my dad and I hopped in a car and drove from Smith Falls, Ontario, to Greenwood, South Carolina, which is just over a 15-hour drive. Arrived late that night to see my little sister Brittany."

Brittany Henderson plays on the Symetra Tour, one level below the LPGA. The sisters tied for second at a Symetra event in March, but last week's visit was for a different reason: Brooke was caddying for Brittany.

Lugging a professional's bag makes your legs burn and shoulders ache, but Brooke insists it's no chore.

"Every time I get up to a shot I have to visualize it first," she said. "So she asks me questions, and I have to tell her exactly what I really see. I think it really helps in my own game now that it's really clear in my mind. It's one thing to think about it, but another thing to have to describe it to somebody else. I think that has really helped.

"Reading greens is another thing. I'm very much a feel player in terms of reading greens and my swing. And reading putts, the more times I'm on a green and more times I have to be able to point or describe how it's going to enter the hole, I think that's been very beneficial to my game.

"Last summer, I caddied for my little sister at the first stage of Q-School, and the tournament finished on Sunday, and I flew to Japan the next day and played the World Am and was low individual there. So I think coming off caddying and playing the next week has really added a lot to my game."

As if we needed another reason to consider Henderson a must-see player this week. She was the world's top-ranked amateur when she turned pro in December, and last year she tied for 10th at the U.S. Women's Open and was runner-up at the U.S. Amateur to fellow teen Kristen Gillman.

A year ago, Henderson was No. 306 in the world rankings. Today, she's 80th and seemingly on the brink of joining the likes of Ko, Pressel, Creamer, Lexi Thompson and Inbee Park as a teenage winner on Tour.

"She's played so good I'm pretty sure that time is going to come really soon," Ko said. "She's too good for it not to happen."

"She's an amazing player," Thompson said, "very strong game overall, doesn't really have a weakness. … The only advice I would have is, every tournament's a learning experience. You're not going to win every tournament, but putting yourself in that position and learning from what you did right and what you did wrong."

Kingsmill is the second of Henderson's six allotted sponsor's exemptions, and the next four will come in rapid succession, including the Women's PGA Championship, her first major as a professional. Also, Henderson is qualified to play in the U.S. Women's Open and Women's British Open.

Win any of those events, and Henderson will earn full-time playing status rather than having to wait until her 18th birthday in September.

"My game is good right now," she said. "I just have to stay patient and see what happens. You know, a couple shots on the weekends the last few weeks and things could have been a little bit different, so I'm gaining experience and gaining knowledge, and hopefully I can use that in the future. …

"It's been so much fun. And it has been a lot of travel, especially flying from San Francisco and playing the Monday qualifier in Texas. I got a lot of questions about why would I do it, but I wouldn't change it for the world."

David Teel can be reached at 757-247-4636 or by email at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP.

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