Brooke Henderson’s quest to play the LPGA full time is right where it ought to be.
It’s in her hands.
That’s LPGA commissioner Mike Whan’s position with a growing legion of her followers believing the 17-year-old Canadian’s victory Sunday on the Symetra Tour is yet more proof she’s ready to play the best tour in the women’s game.
“The bottom line – as I’ve said to Brooke and I’ve said to her father – more than most players I’ve known, she has her future in her hands,” Whan told GolfChannel.com. “She really does. She can play her way on to the LPGA. She can play her way through Q-School. It’s in her hands.”
With Sunday’s victory, Whan granted Henderson a waiver that allowed her to claim Symetra Tour membership. With that, Whan gives Henderson yet more options to play her way to the LPGA.
Yes, Whan hears Henderson’s supporters pressuring him to rewrite his association’s rules and grant her LPGA membership, but the commissioner believes she is traveling a route that is ultimately best for her and his tour.
Whan’s denial last fall of Henderson’s petition for a waiver of the LPGA’s rule requiring members be at least 18 years old kept her out of Q-School, leading her to turn pro anyway and try to play her way into the LPGA this year through sponsor exemptions and Monday qualifiers. While Whan says he is impressed at how Henderson is performing, he is holding firm to a line he drew for teen phenoms Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson.
“I reviewed Brooke’s resume in the fall of 2014, and from my personal perspective at the time, it wasn’t up to par with the others I have approved,” Whan said. “Of the two petitions I’ve said yes to, I’ve probably said 60 no’s. I feel it’s kind of like a legal case. I’m going to set precedent. It’s not just her. I’m going to set a line and most people are going to look and compare themselves to that line. That line now is Lydia and Lexi.”
Ko and Thompson are the only players Whan waived the age rule for since he became LPGA commissioner five years ago, allowing them to play the tour as members before they were 18. They both won LPGA events before he granted them waivers. For Whan, a victory is required before he will even consider saying yes to a waiver.
Whan read Henderson’s father’s comments at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, where Dave Henderson urged media to pressure Whan to find a way to grant his daughter tour membership. She tied for fifth at the Women’s PGA, finished third at the Swinging Skirts Classic and tied for 10th at last year’s U.S. Women’s Open.
“Brooke can play,” Dave said. “She can go. That’s what we tell Mike Whan every day. Give us a chance and let us in . . . What more do you want? She is good for golf. She is good for revenues. She brings young people into the game.”
Whan also acknowledges the social media campaign in support of Henderson. He appreciates the excitement she’s generating, but . . .
“When people make the comments they make on social media, they’re talking about a resume they’ve seen the last four or five months,” Whan said. “To her credit, she’s building a resume that’s nowhere near where it was when she petitioned me last fall.”
The truth is, Henderson’s future really is more in her hands than the commissioner’s.
Even if Whan granted Henderson a waiver of the tour’s age restriction today, it wouldn’t come with LPGA membership privileges. The LPGA doesn’t have the special temporary membership rule that the PGA Tour has. Even with an age waiver, Henderson still has to qualify under one of 20 LPGA priority list categories that grant a player access to the tour. Ko and Thompson used their waivers to claim membership via category 7 (non-member win). Henderson doesn’t yet qualify for tour access via any category. She would need the LPGA to change its rules to somehow grant her instant membership.
Henderson gave herself two more routes for getting to the LPGA with Sunday’s Symetra Tour victory. Here are the routes to the LPGA available to her:
• If Henderson wins an LPGA event, she can claim tour membership for this year and through next year, provided she is granted a waiver of the tour’s age restriction. If she wins, the waiver is a virtual certainty, based on Whan’s record and the fact that he just waived the Symetra Tour age restriction for her. Henderson turns 18 on Sept. 10.
• If Henderson accumulates winnings in LPGA events with a cut that are equal to or better than the player who finishes 40th on the final LPGA official money list this year, she will earn membership for 2016 via category 10 of the LPGA priority list. Henderson has earned $317,470 in seven LPGA starts so far this year. If she were a tour member, she would rank 20th on the LPGA money list this week. A year ago, Hee Young Park finished 40th on the money list with $447,658 in earnings.
• If Henderson wins three Symetra Tour events this year, she will earn an immediate promotion to the LPGA. Her victory Sunday at the Four Winds Invitational counts toward that, meaning she needs two more victories to earn the promotion. While this would give her access to LPGA events via category 13 of the priority list, she wouldn’t play as a tour member. She would accumulate winnings as a non-member. There are 12 Symetra Tour events remaining this season.
• If Henderson is among the top 10 on the final Symetra Tour official money list this year, she would earn LPGA membership for 2016 via category 9 of the priority list. Though Henderson’s victory Sunday counts toward a three-victory promotion to the LPGA, her winnings do not count as official money. She starts Symetra Tour membership this week with zero dollars in official earnings.
• If Henderson doesn’t make it via any of the routes above, she can still try to play her way to the LPGA through Q-School this fall.
Henderson is scheduled to play the next three weeks. She will tee it up at the Symetra Tour’s Island Resort Championship in Harris, Mich., this week and at the Symetra Tour’s Tullymore Classic in Stanwood, Mich., next week. She plans to play the U.S. Women’s Open at Lancaster (Pa.) Country Club the week after that.
Henderson’s seven LPGA starts this year have come via five sponsor exemptions and through two Monday qualifiers. By LPGA rules, she is limited to six sponsor exemptions a year. She has one left and plans to use that at the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August. She is qualified to play the U.S. Women’s Open based on her top-10 finish in last year’s U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst. She also appears likely to get a special invitation to the Ricoh Women’s British Open that won’t count against her six sponsor exemptions.
As of now, Henderson can’t get into any other LPGA events, except through Monday qualifiers. However, she could qualify for the Evian Championship in September if she is among the top 40 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings as of Aug. 4. She’s currently No. 49 in the world.
There’s a lot of work left for Henderson to do to make it to the LPGA, but her future looks in capable hands.