KPMG Women's PGA Rewind: Brooke Henderson, Lydia Ko & the Showdown at Sahalee
While there’s been plenty of exciting conclusions to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship over the last decade – with seven either going to a playoff or being won by just a single shot – the 2016 edition will go down as the most dramatic in recent memory.
Brooke Henderson defeated Lydia Ko in a playoff at Sahalee Country Club outside Seattle, with the pair of 18-year-olds battling it out down the stretch. Henderson ended up winning on the first playoff hole after a hang-it-in-The-Louvre approach on the first playoff hole to just three feet. Ko missed her birdie try from 12 feet and the Canadian was a winner.
It was Henderson’s first major and the first major triumph by a Canadian woman in 48 years.
“It was a dream and I thought it was possible. Did I know it was actually going to happen? No way,” said Henderson about whether or not she would have notched a major triumph. “But I’m extremely grateful.”
Brooke Henderson Henderson opened the tournament with a 4-under 67 and led by two after the first round. She struggled to a 2-over 73 in Round 2 but was still co-leading heading into the weekend.
“To be tied for the lead through two rounds in a major championship is pretty cool. But I know I didn't play my best,” Henderson said after 36 holes. “And so, I'm looking forward to having a good strategy and being able to execute this weekend.”
It had been a wild ride for Henderson to get to that point in her LPGA Tour career.
Less than a year prior, the Canadian did not have full LPGA Tour status and was denied an age waiver to compete at LPGA Tour Q School while just 17. Instead, she earned an Epson Tour card after winning her first event as a pro in 2015. After Monday qualifying for the LPGA Tour stop in Portland later that year, she would go on to win the event by eight shots, earning LPGA Tour status in the process.
The following season, Henderson got off to an incredible start with nine top-10 finishes in her first 13 tournaments. At the time, the only thing that held her back from contending even more was her putting, but the week of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Sahalee, she switched to a brand-new putter on the Tuesday prior to teeing off – a model that was only released on Monday.
“I love it,” Henderson said after her second round. “I didn’t make a whole ton, but every putt looked like it had a chance to go in, which is kind of new for me.”
In the third round, Henderson shot another 2-over 73 and was sitting at even par through 54 holes but Ko, meanwhile, had stayed steady. She was now the solo leader at 2-under.
“Obviously I've got to be happy with it. And I've just got to stay positive. It seems like the girls, they're playing really well, and they're playing consistent. I've just got to focus on my game,” Ko said after the third round.
“You just never know what's going to happen until the winner's putt drops on the last hole.”
Ko’s comment about not knowing what would happen turned out to be a bit of a solid premonition. After struggling to over-par rounds in the first 36 holes, Henderson fired a sizzling 65 in the final round – the round of the week. Ko, to her credit, shot a 4-under 67. That left the duo tied at 6-under 278 after regulation.
Lydia Ko got it to 6-under after 11 holes but couldn’t convert on any birdie attempt over her final seven holes. Henderson made an eagle on Sahalee’s par-5 11th and added a birdie on No. 13 before rolling in a clutch birdie from 35 feet on the penultimate hole of the championship – the par-3 17th. Henderson’s short game was tidy in that final round, getting up and down four times, birding No. 6 and saving par on Nos. 7, 8, and 15.
Henderson was three shots back after making the turn, but she kept the pedal down while Ko couldn’t quite get the momentum on her side.
Ariya Jutanugarn was also in the mix Sunday after her own spirited run. She started the day at even-par but shot a 5-under 66 in the final round. Jutanugarn birdied Nos. 16 and 17 to get to 5-under but ended up just a shot short of joining the playoff when her birdie try on the 72nd hole didn’t fall.
While the balance of Sunday’s finale at Sahalee felt like it lasted forever with the two young heavyweights trading big blows, the playoff was as short as it could be. The par-4 18th played at just over 420 yards, and Henderson hit her iconic approach to three feet. Ko missed her 20-foot try and the title was Henderson’s – overcoming a three-shot deficit on the back nine.
Henderson’s week started with an ace on the par-3 4th on Thursday and ended with her first major championship. Ko, meanwhile, was bidding to win three straight major championships but it was not to be.
“I’m happy with the way I played. I just got outplayed,” admitted Ko. “For Brooke to shoot 65 on the final day at a major, at a course like this, is very impressive.”
Said Henderson of Ko: “I was 14 playing in my first Canadian Open and she was 15 and she won it. So, I thought I was doing pretty well and then she kind of showed me that there was much more. It really helped me to be better.”
While the duo hasn’t replicated their down-to-the-wire duel since, that 2016 memory has been one of the most thrilling conclusions to the KPMG Women’s PGA ever. And with the KPMG Women’s PGA heading back to Sahalee next year, Henderson is hoping for another “perfect week” as she described it in a recent interview.
“Back in 2016 to win my first major in a playoff against the World No.1 and hoist my first major championship trophy on that amazing golf course that was so tough … to go out there at 6-under and win it was amazing,” said Henderson. “I’m excited to have the opportunity to do it again.”
And golf fans everywhere would certainly love that duel to be recreated.