HARRISON, N.Y. – Brooke Henderson is back on another leaderboard.
If not for a closing bogey Thursday at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, Henderson would be tied for the first-round lead in the second major championship of the year. Instead, the 17-year-old Canadian’s 6-under-par 67 left her a shot behind Jenny Shin.
Dave Henderson, Brooke’s father, toted his daughter’s bag as caddie. He saw her do a lot more than dissect yet another difficult course with the savvy of a seasoned veteran. He saw more evidence she has already proven herself worthy of LPGA membership.
After the round, Papa Henderson didn’t hold back expressing his belief LPGA commissioner Mike Whan ought to find a way to grant Brooke tour membership based on what she’s already accomplished this year.
“What more do you want?” Henderson said he wishes media would tell Whan. “She is good for golf, she is good for revenues, she brings young people into the game.”
Dave believes Brooke is more than ready to play the tour as a member.
“We’ve got good financial backing,” he said. “We have a good management group in IMG. We have a good support system. Everything’s in place.”
If you haven’t followed Brooke Henderson’s story, here’s the deal:
The LPGA has a rule that requires tour members be at least 18 years old, but the rule can be waived by the commissioner. Henderson turns 18 on Sept. 10. The Henderson family petitioned for a waiver of the rule last year that would have allowed Henderson to go LPGA Q-School, but the petition was denied.
Henderson turned pro anyway in December, and now she’s trying to avoid Q-School by earning LPGA membership playing as a non-member. She is playing this week on a sponsor exemption. She is playing her seventh LPGA event this season, five of them on sponsor exemptions and two via Monday qualifying. She’s playing well. She tied for third at the Swinging Skirts Classic, missing out on a playoff by a shot. She led after the second and third rounds. She also grabbed the second-round lead at the North Texas Shootout and tied for 13th there.
There are two ways Henderson can earn tour membership without going to Q-School.
1. She can win an LPGA event.
Non-members who win an LPGA event can claim tour membership immediately, with that membership extending through the following season. Henderson, however, would have to gain a waiver of the tour’s rule requiring members be 18 years old before she could claim that membership. Whan has consistently said winning is required for him to consider granting a waiver.
2. Henderson can also gain membership through non-member equivalent earnings.
If Henderson ends this season with the equivalent of top 40 money winnings, she could claim membership for 2016. However, only money earned in events with a cut count toward non-member winnings.
Henderson has won $184,745 in her six starts this year. If she were a tour member, that would rank her 33rd on the LPGA money list. A year ago, Hee Young Park finished 40th on the money list with $447,658 in earnings. Henderson will likely have to make at least that much to have a chance to gain membership based on top-40 equivalent earnings.
The thing is, Henderson may get only 10 starts this year, meaning she may have only three starts left.
Tour rules limit Henderson to six sponsor exemptions. She has one left, and she is scheduled to use that at the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August. She is eligible to play the U.S. Women’s Open next month based on her top-10 finish in last year’s U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst. It also appears she will get to play the Ricoh Women’s British Open in July on a special invitation that doesn’t count against her six sponsor exemptions.
As of now, Henderson can’t get into any other LPGA events except through Monday qualifiers. That means if she doesn’t win the Women’s PGA this week, she will have to make $260,000 in these remaining starts to have a chance at top-40 equivalency membership.
Brooke has consistently said she will accept whatever the tour requires her to do, but she said Thursday she believes she is ready for tour membership. She feels like she’s practically a member now. She is playing her sixth consecutive LPGA event.
“I love it, and I'm really excited when it's my career and I have full status on the LPGA tour and I get to travel week to week with these girls,” Henderson said. “They have been very encouraging and very supportive of the way I've played over the last few weeks, and I've made a lot of friends, which is always nice. I think hopefully I'll have a long career out here, and it just depends on when I'm able to start that career.”
The sooner the better for Papa Henderson.