Fans of LPGA players are some of the most loyal in sports. Through the years, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship has had overwhelming fan support, with some of the most expressive and colorful crowds in the women’s game.
How do athletes begin to quantify the impact these fans have on their performance? It’s a question athletes and golfers specifically are beginning to ask as sporting events resume their schedules amidst the coronavirus pandemic, many without spectators.
Sung Hyun Park, the 2018 KPMG Women’s PGA champion, posed for photos with her fan club ‘Namdalla,’ who traveled from the Republic of Korea to witness her victory at Kemper Lakes Golf Club. Park’s fans came dressed to impress, wearing custom t-shirts with her image emblazoned on the front, and carried personalized signs and banners. When Hannah Green won in 2019, she enjoyed an outpouring of support from a group of young golfers who made the trip from Australia as part of fellow Aussie Karrie Webb’s mentoring program. They draped themselves, and the champion, in their country’s flag.
“I always feel very grateful to my fans when they come to watch, I love their energy and support,” said Brooke Henderson, the 2016 KPMG Women’s PGA champion “I have many fans that will travel great distances to cheer me on. It is always fun to see familiar faces and also to see new fans come out to events.”
Henderson has enjoyed a strong fan following from the moment she joined the LPGA Tour in 2015. Her fellow Canadians travel well and are loud and unabashed in their support. The final round of the 2016 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Sahalee Country Club was no different.
Sunday at Sahalee, Henderson trailed by two-strokes and needed an incredible final round showing in order to chase down current world No. 1 Lydia Ko, who was chasing history of her own in pursuit of a third consecutive major title.
“Fans played a big role in my first major victory at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship at Sahalee,” said Henderson. “I heard shouts all afternoon, ‘Go Brooke! Go Canada!’ It was an amazing feeling. It kept my energy and adrenaline high coming down the stretch.”
The Canadian’s adrenaline was riding high as she trained a 90-footer for eagle from off the green at the par 5, 11th to soar up the leaderboard. As she walked to the next tee there was a little girl waiting for her, who walked the entire final stretch with Henderson.
“One little girl gave me a high five after every hole on the back nine on Sunday,” Henderson said. “She would get herself into position along the rope as I walked from the green to the next tee. She was so excited, and it was a lot of fun for both of us.”
That young fan was there every step of the way with Henderson, who defeated Ko on the first playoff hole to capture her first major title and become the youngest winner in the history of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. She hoisted the trophy high over her head like the Stanley Cup champions have done so many times before. It was a salute and thank you to all her fans back home in Canada.
“It is always a lot of fun and a surreal feeling when I see fans wearing Team Henderson shirts or sporting the Canadian flag,” said Henderson. “It definitely gives me a boost knowing that they are here to watch and cheer me on. It is great to have so many loyal and amazing fans not only from Canada but also from around the world.”
Henderson goes out of her way to show gratitude to her fans by taking photos with them and signing autographs after her round. It’s a popular practice by many in the women’s game. But, in the current environment, where players and fans are separated, athletes have to find new and creative ways to connect with their fans. In May, Henderson hosted a question and answer session with fans on Twitter. Danielle Kang, the 2017 KPMG Women’s PGA champion, has amplified her social presence during the pandemic to help raise money to feed those in need. As always, fans turned out to show their support and donated thousands of dollars to the cause.
LPGA players have some of the most loyal fan followings. Even from afar.