SAMMAMISH – Patience paid off for Brooke Henderson.
With nine consecutive worldwide top-10’s to start 2016, the 18-year-old continued to remind herself that her time would come. The moment arrived on Sunday at Sahalee Country Club where the Canadian captured her first major title at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and became the youngest winner in the event’s history.
“Yeah that’s amazing, as well, to think about all of the incredible players that have come before me,” Henderson told the media. “And even I was reading some of the names on this trophy and it’s very, very cool.”
Henderson entered the final round two-back of 54-hole leader Lydia Ko, who was on cruise control throughout much of the day and extended her lead to as many as three strokes on Sunday. But Henderson caught fire on the back nine, draining a putt from long range off the front of the green at the par 5, 11th hole for eagle to pull within one-stroke of Ko. The momentum had officially shifted.
“When that putt went in on No.11 for eagle, that was kind of like the huge jump forward, huge momentum changer. And then things just went pretty well. A good save on 14 out of the bunker. And then good putts on 17 and 18 to kind of finish it.”
Another huge birdie putt at the par 3, 17th hole pulled Henderson even with Ko with just one hole to play. She managed to get up and down from the rough after a wayward tee shot at the last. Henderson carded the low round of the championship on Sunday with a bogey-free, six-under par, 65 to tie Ko and force a playoff.
The two returned to the 18th tee for the first hole of sudden death and both found the fairway off the tee. Ko hit her approach to 20 feet and Henderson responded confidently, stuffing her approach to three feet for birdie and the win with her fellow Canadians cheering her along.
“The last couple of days the support for Canada has been really incredible. Walking down the fairway we were yelling my name. But last time they were just yelling Go Canada. And that was kind of a surreal feeling. I can’t really put words to it. But I’d like to say that I am the Canadian face to women’s golf. And I’d like to say I’m a good athlete for Canada.”
What a difference a year has made for Henderson. Just one year ago Henderson was a non-member, competing at Westchester Country Club in her first playing of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. It would turn out to be one of the breakout weeks for Henderson in 2015, who Monday qualified and received sponsor’s invitations into 10 events as a non-member including the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship where she finished in a share of fifth to give Henderson a big boost not only on the money list but in confidence.
“Playing in this event, KPMG Women’s PGA Championship last year, I finished T-5. It gave me a lot of money, so it gave me a good chance to finish in the top 40 money list and give me my card. I didn’t need to do it that way but it gave me a lot of confidence knowing I was going to be in the top 40. The tournament was a huge stepping stone for me.”
She Monday qualified for the Cambia Portland Classic in August where she went on to win by eight strokes for her first win and successfully petitioned Commissioner Mike Whan for membership on Tour.
“The Northwest really has been really, really good to me. And coming here it kind of reminded me of Portland a little bit. A little bit similar with the tall trees lining the fairway. And Portland at times can be very tight as well,” Henderson said. “And that was another thing that contributed to good feelings leading into this week. It’s just definitely a huge confidence boost and I wish there was more tournaments in the Northwest.”
With her victory, Henderson is projected to climb from fourth to second in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, a far cry from No.221, where she started 2015.
“I mean of course I thought it was – it was a dream and I thought it was possible. Did I know it was actually going to happen? No way. But I’m extremely grateful.”