SAMMAMISH, WASHINGTON – On June 13, 2012 Brooke Henderson completed a remarkable feat. At the tender age of 14 years, 9 months and 3 days, she became the youngest ever winner of a professional golf tournament. She surpassed the previous record holder by two days.
The name of the golfer she snuck past? None other than Lydia Ko. They were minor pro events, but they were significant nonetheless.
On Sunday, nearly four years to the day after that huge feat, it was Brooke Henderson’s time to shine once more. This time at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship; a much bigger stage.
In regulation play the pair would tie with a score of 278. It would fall to Henderson to hit a crushing blow on the first playoff hole to become a major champion.
Starting the final round of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship two shots back of Ko, the top-ranked female golfer, the entire golf world was aware what a monumental task Henderson had before her. Not only would she need to catch a player pursuing her third major championship in a row, she would also need to do it on a golf course as daunting as they come. Tree-lined, water-ridden, and more than 6,600 yards deep. Sahalee would be no pushover.
She was up to the task.
Oh, was she.
In a day where she tackled every challenge thrown at her with success the 18 year-old from Smiths Falls, Ontario (population 8,978) put up an impressive final round score of 65. The six under total in regulation was a magical one.
It started slowly, but with promise as Henderson began to chip away at the lead of Ko who was busy adding to her under par total and looking insurmountable.
“Well, it was an amazing day, for sure,” noted the Canadian in the media room. “Starting out (on the) second hole they had the tees up a little bit, par 5 and I thought maybe I could go for it in 2. And I did, I kind of took a chance. I knew I needed to hit that club really well to get it there. I started off with a birdie there. And got one more on the next par-5 and finished the front nine at 2-under. It was a pretty good score on that tough golf course. But I saw the leaderboard and I knew I needed to be better.”
The teen, who will rise to the #2 World Ranking with her victory, did just that.
On the 11th hole she got the world’s attention with a 96-foot eagle putt (Brooke says it was 32 paces) from off the green that found the bottom of the cup and put her within reach of Ko.
“When that putt went in on No. 11 for eagle, that was kind of like the huge jump forward, huge momentum changer,” commented the new champion, adding slyly, “And then things just really went pretty well.”
Getting to the clubhouse was not a drama-free affair after the big roar on 11. Brooke made a birdie on the 13th but required some good par saves over the next few holes after some errant shots. She took full advantage with an unlikely birdie bomb on the 17th. A pulled tee shot on the par three left her with a precarious path to the hole.
“I actually thought it was going to be worse than where it was,” she shared of the approach. “But it was a pretty decent shot, actually, just pin-high, middle of the green on 17 is usually a pretty good spot. And then just as that putt was coming maybe the last four, three feet I was like, man, this has a really good chance. And this is in. And I was just like — I just wanted it to go in so badly and then is just caught the right side of the hole there. And I think I even said, yes, to myself. But that was really huge. It might have been putt that won me the tournament.”
Henderson followed up with an equally impressive putt on the 18th hole, this time for par. The putter, a new PING Vault OSLO model that was new to the the bag this week, cooperated nicely.
When Ko missed a short birdie on the 17th hole and could muster no better than par on the last it sent the fateful duo back to the tee of the final hole for an extra stanza.
As they greeted each other with a hug to get the extended proceedings underway the golf world sat enthralled. They were two teens looking to make history. One looking for three majors in a row and the other her very first.
The latter, Henderson, would hit a piercing 7 iron approach on the one and only playoff test that would be required to within a few feet of the hole. Following a miss by Ko for birdie, Brooke calmly rolled in the ball with her new best friend for a major moment she, and the rest of Canada, will long remember.
Said an elated new champion, “I knew I would have to do something special to beat her, and I was able to do that.”
Although defeated Ko was gracious in the loss, fully appreciating what her competitor’s win meant. “…for her to win her first major, it’s amazing. And when she’s doing it at her age, she’s still only 18. I think it’s great. I think it’s great for the Tour. And it’s good for the women’s game.”
With the victory Henderson becomes the second Canadian female to win a major championship, following in the footsteps of Sandra Post in 1968. She also becomes the second youngest major winner in the history of the LPGA Tour.
“Yeah, that’s amazing, as well, to think about all of the incredible players that have come before me,” commented Henderson, who understandably could not stop smiling, even more than her usual self.” And even I was reading some of the names on this trophy and it’s very, very cool. But I would have liked to be the youngest ever to win a major championship, but to be able to win this one is a good second best.”
Having finished in a share of 5th at this major last year Brooke was ready for another shot at the title, this time in the U.S. pacific northwest. She had proven herself comfortable in the region; just one state over, in Oregon, was where where she won her first LPGA title last year.
“Coming into this week I had really good vibes and I loved Sahalee Country Club. And I was just really looking forward to the week, and it turned out to be a good one.”
Not lost on Henderson was the parallel paths that she and Ko, now the two top players in the world, have been on for several years. With Ko leading the way, the slightly younger major champion tipped her cap to the New Zealander.
“She kind of showed me that there was much more. And it definitely really has helped me to be better and to believe in myself, too, just watching her. It’s pretty cool that we’re both kind of coming on to the stage. She was a little bit before me. But looks like our careers will probably start pretty much close to the same time and probably end at the same time. I’m sure — I hope we have lots of extra holes like that or lots of times where we’re contending for the championship.”
For her victory Brooke Henderson earned (USD) $525,000.
She also had nice bonus during the week. She won a KIA 900 car for a hole in one in the opening round.
With Brooke deciding to gift the car to her sister and caddy Brittany, it will be just one more memory the two will share from a very, very special week.
Hamilton, Ontario’s Alena Sharp had her own sensational Sunday at Sahalee. The tour veteran capped a snappy 67 with a long birdie putt on the final hole to end up in a share of 22nd place. It is her best finish in a major in her career.
/ Scott MacLeod @OntarioGolfNews