SAMMAMISH, Wash. (AP) — There could be no better advertisement for the future of the LPGA Tour than the final round of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
There was excitement and drama creating roars that echoed through the trees of Sahalee Country Club. The back nine was a clinic in clutch shot-making, leading to a playoff to crown the champion.
And when the tournament finally ended on the 73rd hole and Brooke Henderson earned her first major title and second LPGA victory thanks to a sterling back nine Sunday, the final leaderboard was topped by an 18-year-old, followed by 19-year-old Lydia Ko, with a 20-year-old Ariya Jutanugarn in third place.
“It’s really (exciting) when you see they are getting younger every time,” Jutanugarn said.
The second major of the year on the LPGA Tour became Henderson’s breakthrough. She became the second-youngest winner in a major championship, with Ko the youngest last year in the Evian Championship in France. Henderson also is the second Canadian woman to win a major championship, following Sandra Post’s victory in the 1968 event.
And she gave validity to a possible future rivalry. Ko had proven herself on the big stage by winning the last two majors. Now, it was Henderson’s turn and if so, what a first chapter it was.
“I think we’ve come a long way and I think we’ve kind of made each other work on a few things and try to get better at a few things,” Ko said. “And I think that’s the fun challenge about it.”
Henderson had been waiting for a victory. She finished in the top 10 nine times already this season, but was unable to match what she did a year ago in picking up her first career victory in Portland, Oregon. So many close calls this year for Henderson — a second, a fourth, a sixth — until now.
“Coming into this week, I had really good vibes and I loved Sahalee Country Club,” Henderson said. “I was just really looking forward to the week and it turned out to be a good one.”
The youth movement on the LPGA Tour is not new, but has been amplified this year. The oldest winner was Anna Nordqvist, who turned 29 this week. Every other tournament this year has been won by a player younger than 24.
Fans can only hope the theater put forth by Henderson and Ko on Sunday can be matched in the future.
The final round was a display of nearly flawless golf from the best after players spent the first three rounds getting kicked around at difficult Sahalee. Henderson, Ko and Jutanugarn played a combined 56 holes on the final day without a bogey. Jutanugarn, in search of a fourth straight victory, shot a 66 to finish a stroke back. Jutanugarn missed a birdie putt on the 18th that could have put her into the playoff.
But no one was better than Henderson, who was the first-round leader after a 67 before shooting consecutive rounds of 73. Three times, she saved par out of the bunker, although her best save came the first time she played the 18th and didn’t include the sand. Henderson’s tee shot found the trees right of the fairway, but she scrambled to make a 12-footer to finish out a back nine of 31.
Ko missed a chance to take the lead when a 4-foot birdie putt on the 17th slid past the right edge of the cup. She made par on 18 to force the playoff, but Henderson had one more perfect shot left. Henderson’s 7-iron from 155 yards never moved from its line at the flag stick and stopped 3 feet from the cup. When Ko’s birdie attempt missed, Henderson tapped in to begin the celebration.
Henderson hopes it’s the beginning of many celebrations to come.
“Looking forward to the rest of the summer,” Henderson said. “There’s still three major championships left. I’d like to get my name on all three of those, but I won’t get ahead of myself here.”
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