A Clash of the Titans at Sahalee: Brooke Henderson & Lydia Ko
With the return of major championship golf to the Pacific Northwest, it’s worth revisiting the tone set by a great clash of LPGA teen titans of the 2016 KPMG Women's PGA Championship at Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, Washington.
The course's second major, alongside Vijay Singh's 1998 PGA Championship victory, ended in a one-hole playoff between future multiple-time major champions. Then 18-year-old Canadian prodigy Brooke Henderson, with her maiden LPGA Tour victory almost a year prior in Portland, marched down Sahalee's back nine for a final round 65, the low score of the week. That made up a two-stroke deficit to catch the best player in the world, Lydia Ko, as the last one standing to deny the 19-year-old her third major championship in a row.
Henderson played well on the front, but the back nine proved the tale of the week.
“[I] finished the front nine at 2-under,” Henderson said, “It was a pretty good score on that tough golf course. But I saw the leaderboard and I knew I needed to be better.”
Wait for ittttt.... @BrookeHenderson was on 🔥 at the 2016 #KPMGWomensPGA Championship.#TopShotTuesday pic.twitter.com/B05KkMDYCd— KPMG Women's PGA Championship (@KPMGWomensPGA) December 13, 2022
Better began on the par-5 11th. With Henderson's second shot ending up on the front fringe, she opened her stance with her putter in hand. The pin sat 90 feet away.
For Henderson, it may as well have been nine feet.
With a looping right-to-left break, the ball rolled true into the hole. The Canadian star cut Ko's lead down from three to one in a single, lengthy roll.
“When that putt went in on No. 11 for eagle,” Henderson said, “that was kind of like the huge jump forward, huge momentum changer. And then things just really went pretty well.”
On the 154-yard par 3 13th, which the Canadian aced during the first round, Henderson parked her tee shot pin high just left of the flag. It set up her third birdie of the day to move to five-under, remaining one back of the world No. 1.
The next par 3 is where Henderson finally caught Ko in the twilight of her round. On the 17th, she punched home a cross-green 40-footer into the back of the cup to tie Ko. Henderson scrambled on the last from the trees, and after knocking in an eight-foot par save, Henderson hop-stepped to celebrate.
Her reward for the lowest round of the week? Another trip to the 18th tee in a sudden-death playoff for the chance to become the second Canadian, alongside Sandra Post, to win an LPGA major.
Both headed to the playoff playing incredible golf. Neither teenager carded a bogey Sunday at Salahee, showing a temperament beyond their years in the major championship fire. The Kiwi posted a four-under 67.
Henderson's tee shot sat 155 yards away following Ko’s approach hitting the green and sitting 25 feet from the flag. With a similar distance she had on the 13th earlier Sunday, Henderson hit a nearly identical shot. Her soaring iron shot landed on the front of the green. Then, it trickled pin high, nestling just left of the flag.
“That playoff against Lydia Ko,” Henderson said, “the World No. 1, great competitor, she's already won the last two majors on the LPGA Tour. And I knew I would have to do something special to beat her, and I was able to do that.”
To @LydiaKo -- you're an inspiration to me and everyone in the game of golf and beyond. Let's do this more often eh? pic.twitter.com/Xv9RwXGyvA— Brooke Henderson (@BrookeHenderson) June 13, 2016
Henderson knocked home her birdie putt to become the youngest winner in KPMG Women's PGA Championship history, adding a worthy chapter to the KPMG/PGA relationship. The dynamic relationship has continued to grow since the 2016 duel, as the purse surged from $525,000 to $9,000,000 in 2022.
At her pre-tournament press conference, Ko foretold what it would take to win at Sahalee Country Club. It's a statement that holds true as the KPMG Women's PGA Championship returns in 2024.
“It's going to be tough but challenging [to win at Sahalee]," Ko said, "And you can be really creative out here.
"And I think it will be a very deserving winner at the end of the week.”