It was a battle of golf’s teenage superstars with 18-year old Canadian Brooke Henderson besting the world’s top female player, Lydia Ko, in a Sunday playoff to claim the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
At 18 years, 10 months, Henderson is the second-youngest female winner of a major championship, after Ko, who won at 18-years four months of age. The victory also makes Henderson the No. 2 woman golfer in the world.
“That’s amazing. To think about all of the incredible players that have come before me,” Henderson said at a press conference following her win.
“I was reading some of the names on this trophy and it’s very, very cool. 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.”
Ko, 19, the world’s No. 1 ranked female player, entered the final round two shots ahead of Henderson, who hails from the town of Smiths Falls, Ont. But Henderson played the back nine at Sahalee, a notoriously difficult course in Seattle, at 4-under par, and closed with a 6-under par 65, a remarkable score under difficult circumstances. Henderson made a birdie on the only playoff hole to win the tournament.
Ko applauded Henderson’s win, saying “Brooke just outplayed me.”
“You can see her confidence is really high,” Ko said. “And for her to go right at the pin on the 18th in the playoff, it’s amazing. So I know that I played solid. That’s all I can do.
“She’s been playing really solid all year, a bunch of Top 10s,” Ko added. “And for her to win this and 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.”
In the playoff on the par-4 18th, Henderson hit a 7-iron tight, while Ko’s shot finished 20 feet from the flag. Ko’s putt missed to the left, and Henderson tapped her birdie in to win the championship.
There were questions about Henderson’s decision to turn pro at the age of 17 at the end of 2015, largely because the LPGA has rules limiting players from full membership in the tour until they turn 18. But playing on sponsor’s invites Monday and qualifying for tournaments worked for Henderson, who won last August, forcing the LPGA to give her status on the tour. At the time, many wondered whether the pressure of skipping college and turning pro would hurt the teenager. But Henderson said at the time that the situation wouldn’t limit her.
“It is only pressure if you let it be pressure,” she says. “I’ve been known as the face of Canadian golf for a while now. If you have that pressure it means you’re doing something right.”
One thing is clear—Henderson expects to be in contention alongside Ko for years to come. In many ways this is a huge win not only for Henderson, but for the LPGA with Ko and Henderson battling for championships for years to come.
“It’s pretty cool that we’re both kind of coming on to the stage,” Henderson says. “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 hope we have lots of extra holes like that or lots of times where we’re contending for the championship.”