I fear for Brooke Henderson, the teenage golf prodigy, succumbing to the curse of the instant Canadian sports hero.
The 18-year-old from Ontario won her third LPGA tournament Sunday, at the same Portland (Oregon) Classic where she claimed her first tour title last summer.
But her biggest victory came three weeks ago, at the Women’s PGA Championship in Washington state, where she became only the third Canadian to capture one of golf’s majors.
That triumph was trumpeted with headlines both celebratory and chauvinistic.
- Canadian phenom Brooke Henderson has ‘superstar qualities’ – Globe and Mail
- Henderson’s win shared by a nation – TSN
- Brooke Henderson has her Mike Weir moment – CBC
For Weir, it turned out to be only a moment, when the little lefty won the 2003 Masters and was instantaneously inflated into a giant in the history of Canadian sports.
Hero worship ensued. The media gushed. Corporate Canada swooned, throwing money at the first homegrown man to win a major.
Weir’s head swelled to Humpty Dumpty proportions. He precipitously fell down the golf rankings. (He’s now No. 1,703.)
Becoming a Canadian sports celebrity is easy. Staying at the top of your sport for more than a moment has proved tough.
I’m not talking about hockey players, or Steve Nash, or Fergie Jenkins. In team sports, birthplace can be merely a novelty, not a curse.
Not so with the two most popular individual sports, the glamor sports, golf and tennis.
There has never been a world-No. 1 Canadian golfer or tennis player. The same can’t be said for much smaller countries, such as Sweden (Borg, Edberg, Sorenstam) and Australia (Margaret Court, Laver, Newcombe, Greg Norman, Jason Day).
Yet the bar has always been low above the 49th parallel.
Eugenie Bouchard, now 22, was the Brooke Henderson of tennis just two years ago. And she didn’t even win a major.
Bouchard was the It Girl of Canadian sports in 2014, after losing in the semifinals of the Australian and French opens, and the final at Wimbledon.
The Montrealer was ranked fifth in the world, voted the Canadian Press female athlete of the year.
Her blonde good looks wooed Nike, a high-powered U.S. agent and a modelling firm.
Then, last year, her game went into the crapper. And it’s pretty much stayed flushed.
This weekend, she had a temper tantrum or two while being knocked out in the third round at Wimbledon.
A headline in the Daily Mail: Eugenie Bouchard faces fine after smashing racket during third round defeat …
The headline in the Toronto Star: Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard reaffirms her love of tennis
The Star, often a cheerleader, created the annual Lou Marsh Trophy, awarded to “Canada’s top athlete,” and named it for its sports editor after he died in 1936.
That year, the winner was Phil Edwards, known as the “Man of Bronze.”
An immigrant from British Guiana (now Guyana), the runner claimed his fifth medal – all bronze – in his third Olympics, the 1936 Berlin Games.
Ever since, the chant of We’re number three has periodically echoed through the annals of Canadian sports.
Olympians have won a snootful of Marsh trophies, for their excellence in such events as rowing, shooting, biathlon – skiing and shooting – kayaking, wrestling, bobsled, synchronized swimming and wheelchair racing.
Canadian Press hands out two athlete-of-the-year awards, one to each sex.
Greg Joy was CP’s man of the year in 1976, for his silver medal in the high jump at the Montreal Games, when Canada became the first host country not to win gold.
We’re number two!
Canadians have often changed their tune in recent decades, perhaps since Donovan Bailey won gold in the 100 metres at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, erasing the shame of Ben Johnson from Seoul in ’88.
But golfers and tennis players continued to be elevated above their accomplishments.
Sandra Post was the first Canadian golfer to win a major, the LPGA championship, in 1968, at the age of 20. She never won another.
But she wasn’t CP’s athlete of the year until 1979, for finishing second on the LPGA money list.
We’re number two!
Tennis players Carling Bassett and Helen Kelesi won the same award – twice each in the ’80s – and never won anything of note.
(I was assigned a story on Carling for Air Canada’s En Route magazine in 1981 when she was 13 years old. Her pedigree – granddaughter of media kingpin John W. Bassett and daughter of sports wheeler-dealer Johnny Bassett – was much the lure. Interviewing a child was a challenge.)
This century, the CP award has gone to tennis’ Aleksandra Wozniak (who?), Bouchard (twice), Milos Raonic (twice) and Henderson last year, after her first victory in Portland.
“There’s no question she’s going to be the number one player in women’s golf,” proclaimed one of the prophets on sports radio in Toronto on Monday.
We’re number one?
Or maybe just for a moment.