It seems fitting that the person to deny Lydia Ko a third consecutive LPGA major would be a player who is somehow younger than she is.
And that’s exactly what 18-year-old Canadian Brooke Henderson did on Sunday to win her first major title at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
Henderson first earned her way into a playoff with Ko, the 54-hole leader, by shooting 6-under 65 at Sahalee Country Club in Washington. Then, on the first playoff hole, Henderson blasted a drive up the left side of the tight — they’re all tight, really, at Sahalee — 18th. After Ko hit an impressive shot from 175 yards to about 20 feet for birdie, Henderson smoked a mid-iron that landed short of the hole location and rolled up to about 2-and-a-half feet.
Ko couldn’t make the right-to-left swinger for birdie, missing on the low side. The Kiwi tapped in for par, well aware her fate had been sealed. Henderson made her birdie putt to lock up the title and become the youngest winner in this championship’s storied history — first as the LPGA Championship, now as the Women’s PGA Championship — and the second-youngest woman in history to win a major, only behind Ko, who accomplished the feat last year.
Now Ko, who has a lock over the No. 1 spot in the world rankings, will be trailed by Henderson. And, by the way, 20-year-old Ariya Jutanugarn, who had won her last three starts, finished in third place this week.
“I think it’s great,” Ko said. “I think it’s great for the Tour. And it’s good for the women’s game.”
That’s a remarkable view considering Ko was vying to become the fifth player in LPGA history to win three consecutive majors — and by far the youngest. Instead, Sunday was the coronation of Canada’s second women’s major champion, behind Sandra Post, who won this title in 1968 at 20 years of age.
Ko and Thompson at 1-2 in the rankings lead the LPGA’s youth movement. Then there’s 20-year-old Lexi Thompson not far behind at No. 4, followed by 23-year-old Sei Young Kim, 21-year-old defending U.S. Women’s Open champion Ingee Chun and Jutanugarn.
In a year when 29-year-old Anna Nordqvist is by far the tour’s oldest winner, the LPGA is quickly racing into a new, exciting era that this group may lead for a decade or longer.
LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Changing venues, sponsors signal changes to the business of golf