SAMMAMISH, Wash. – Brooke Henderson won, but so did women’s golf.
Henderson’s epic duel with Lydia Ko on Sunday at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship will go down as one of the greatest finishes in the history of the women’s game.
Sahalee is Chinook for “High Heavenly Ground,” and the course lived up to its name with Henderson, Ko and Ariya Jutanugarn taking the women’s game to another level creating some spectacular theater. It was an instant classic.
Henderson chased down Rolex World No. 1 Ko in regulation on the back nine, then beat her with an unforgettable 7-iron to 3 feet for birdie on the first playoff hole.
“An amazing day,” Henderson said.
The LPGA hasn’t suddenly become young, but it’s suddenly become younger than it has ever been.
At 18 years, 9 months and 2 days old, Henderson is the youngest winner in the 62-year history of this championship, which carries the LPGA Championship records with it. She’s the second-youngest winner of a women’s major, behind Ko, who won the Evian Championship in September at 18 years, 4 months and 20 days old.
When the newest Rolex Women’s World Rankings are released, Ko and Henderson will be No. 1-2, respectively. A couple of teenagers now reign over women’s golf.
Jutanugarn, who is only 20, missed out on the playoff after coming up inches short at the 18th of closing with three consecutive birdies. She was bidding to win her fourth consecutive start.
Henderson shot 65, Jutanugarn 66 and Ko 67.
For three days, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship felt like a U.S. Women’s Open, with smattering of applause rewarding players for their parade of pars. But come Sunday, Sahalee was transformed. The chorus of soul-stirring roars Henderson, Ko and Jutanugarn conjured on the back nine made this sound like the women’s version of the Masters.
“This was great for the women’s game and for the LPGA,” Ko said.
Ko, trying to become just the fifth woman to win three majors in a row, took a one-shot lead into the final round. She looked unbeatable from the start, sticking a wedge to a foot at the first hole to open with a birdie. She built a three-shot lead going to the back nine, but that’s where Henderson took charge.
“I knew I would have to do something special to beat her,” Henderson said.
After smashing a 3-wood just in front of the green at the 11th, Henderson rolled in a 90-foot eagle putt.
“To have it go in was incredible,” said Henderson, a Canadian who had a legion of fellow countrymen in the gallery rooting for her. “I was just trying to nestle it up and make sure I made birdie. That was huge momentum changer for me.”
The roar there sent a quake through the grounds with Henderson moving within a shot of Ko.
“The way the noise echoed here was really cool,” Henderson said. “I'd never really experienced that before."
Henderson rolled in another monster putt at the 17th, holing a birdie from 36 feet. That tied her with Ko at 6 under overall. At the last, Henderson made a remarkable par save from 90 yards out, holing a 12-foot putt.
Unflappable with all those roars in front of her, Ko finally stumbled on the back nine. She didn’t make a bogey all day, but she missed a 4-foot birdie chance at the 17th that could have put her one shot clear of Henderson. She missed the putt right.
“I was kind of aiming right center, but it almost broke a little bit,” Ko said. “I'm not really sure if I pushed it. I didn't feel like it was a bad stroke. So maybe I misread it a little bit.”
Henderson won it in the playoff, sticking a 7-iron from 155 yards to 3 feet. She rolled the putt in after Ko missed a 15-foot birdie chance.
“It looks like our careers will probably start pretty much close to the same time and probably end at the same time,” Henderson said. “I hope we have lots of extra holes like that, or lots of times where we're contending for championships.”