'Smiling Assassin' Brooke Henderson eager to defend her title at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship

By Teddy Greenstein
Published on
'Smiling Assassin' Brooke Henderson eager to defend her title at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship

Ask the "Smiling Assassin" about her nickname, and Brooke Henderson responds just as you'd hope.

She beams, exposing a beautiful set of front teeth.

"That's what people say," she replied with a laugh. "I'd like to think I'm pretty tough on the course, but I also like to teach everybody that you can smile and be happy and still be really good at something you do."

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Henderson is the defending champion at this week's LPGA major at Olympia Fields, the KPMG Women's PGA Championship. If that doesn't impress you, consider the birthdate on her Canadian passport -- Sept. 10, 1997.

So Steph Curry's college nickname, "Baby-faced Assassin," also applies.

Henderson has played golf since she was 3, learning from her father in Smiths Falls, near Ottawa. Dave Henderson, a hockey goalie at the University of Toronto in the '80s and a retired schoolteacher, still serves as Brooke's primary swing instructor.

"He's amazing in how he can differentiate between coach and dad," she says. "As my dad, he's my best friend. And as my coach, he pushes me to be better."

Brooke also played goalie but put hockey on ice at 14, a year before winning the Canadian Women's Amateur. She finished runner-up in the 2014 U.S. Women's Amateur and tied for 10th in the 2014 U.S. Women's Open at Pinehurst.

She was 18 when she won her first major, last year's Women's PGA, in spectacular fashion. She shot a final-round 65 at Sahalee, near Seattle, then took out Lydia Koon the first playoff hole, flushing a 7-iron from 155 yards to 3 feet.

MORE: 10 Wednesday takeaways from Olympia Fields

"This is a very different course from last year," Henderson said of Olympia Fields, the delightful and demanding south suburban club ranked 79th among Golf Digest's greatest American courses. "But the pressure is still the same. It's a major championship, and it will be a tough week. Hopefully I'll get off to a fast start Thursday."

Henderson will tee off on No. 1 at 8:40 a.m. Thursday with Californian Alison Lee and Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn. Sandra Gal, Michelle Wie and two-time major winner Stacy Lewis will follow at 8:50.

"You win a major and you come back the next year," Lewis said, "everyone makes sure you know it."

She described Henderson as "very quiet, kind of unassuming."

"But she is super-talented," Lewis said, "and you can tell in the way she plays that she is very confident."

Henderson comes in hot, having held off Wie and Lexi Thompson two weeks ago in Grand Rapids, Mich., for her fourth LPGA victory.

"She's hitting the ball really well now after struggling mightily for almost a year off the tee and with her iron shots," NBC/Golf Channel reporter Jerry Foltz said. "And she doesn't miss clutch putts. I call her the 'Smiling Assassin' because she has that one intangible that so many players want -- and want to think they have but don't really know."

She's also a great ambassador for the game.

"You can play golf when you're 3, like I did, and you can play it like my great-grandmother did when she was 90," Henderson said. "It's very social. You can build a lot of friendships and confidence."

This article is written by Teddy Greenstein from Chicago Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to