Henderson recorded a hole-in-one on the 13th hole, and she finished her round with three birdies in the final four holes for a 4-under 67, giving her the opening-round lead in the second of five LPGA majors.
SAMMAMISH — Brooke Henderson likes to say she’s “living the dream,’’ and why not? Henderson is 18, the bright and shining face of Canadian golf, and the latest in a seemingly endless line of teen sensations on the LPGA Tour.
In her first full season, Henderson has become one of the most consistent players on tour, with nine top-10 finishes this year while ascending to the No. 4 world ranking. For Henderson, fame is rapidly beckoning, and fortune is close behind.
But Henderson’s dream year might be ready to reach new dimensions at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Sahalee Country Club. Just four holes into her opening round Thursday, Henderson drained a 7-iron on the 152-yard 13th hole for a hole-in-one, winning a Kia K900 automobile in the process.
Henderson finished her round with three birdies in the final four holes for a 4-under 67, giving her the opening-round lead in the second of five LPGA majors. Considering that Henderson’s tendency this year has been for pedestrian starts and rapid finishes, this could be an ominous development for the rest of the field.
For Henderson’s older sister, Brittany, on the other hand, it’s a boon. A professional golfer herself, Brittany is taking time off the developmental Symetra Tour to caddie for her sister. Every tournament, during the practice round, Brooke tells Brittany, “See that car? If I get it, it’s yours.”
She actually neglected to say that this week, but no worries. Brooke declared after her round that she will “donate” the car to her 25-year-old sister, who happens to not have any wheels at the moment.
Perhaps that explains why Brooke Henderson remained calm when her shot hit the apron to the left of the green and funneled into the hole, while Brittany became flustered. When someone asked her for the yardage of the ace, she gave the wrong distance. Perhaps visions of a new luxury sedan were dancing in her head.
“We’ll see,’’ Brittany said with a laugh. “I’m waiting until I actually have the keys. I told her, ‘No takebacks.’ ”
It was a takeback of sorts that launched Brooke Henderson’s pro golf tour at age 17. Growing up in Smith Falls, Ontario, she was a star-struck grade-schooler when Brittany began to be inundated with recruiting material from American colleges. Brittany eventually chose Coastal Carolina, but Brooke became enamored with the University of Florida after seeing one of their brochures.
“I painted my entire room the Gator colors,’’ she said at her news conference Wednesday. “I had a Gator head cover in my bag. I received my first letter from them when I was in grade 8. That was something I really dreamed of. I really wanted to play for them.’’
As a high-school junior, Henderson committed to Florida but eventually decided to turn pro rather than attend college. In case you’re wondering, her room is still decked out in Gator orange and blue.
“I’m still a big fan,’’ she said.
The decision to forgo college has worked out well, though LPGA commissioner Michael Whan denied Henderson’s first request to waive the age requirement and get a special exemption into the LPGA Tour School. Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko had received such exemptions at age 17, but unlike Henderson, they had earned LPGA victories.
In 10 tournaments as a non-member pro, Henderson earned $661,264 in unofficial money (though the dough was still official at banks and stores). That non-member distinction ended last August when Henderson, after qualifying on that Monday, romped to an eight-stroke victory in the Cambia Portland Classic, becoming at 17 years, 11 months, 6 days, the third-youngest tour winner ever, behind Ko and Thompson.
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Henderson was given immediate LPGA Tour membership, and has been a rising force since. She also is the first Canadian to win on the tour since Lorie Kane won the Takefuji Classic in 2001. Henderson is proud of the following she’s developing in her homeland, which may well swell into Sahalee if she remains in contention.
“I’ve played on Canada’s national team since I was 14,’’ she said. “I’ve worn the Maple Leaf on my shirt since then. I love being announced that I’m from Canada. … It’s really an incredible feeling to know I’m the face of Canadian women’s golf right now and everyone is behind me.”
That relationship will only grow if Henderson, who last year finished tied for fifth in this event and the women’s U.S. Open, can grab her first major.
Henderson, a former youth hockey goalie (hey, she’s Canadian) says the strongest part of her game is off the tee and that the driver is normally her best club.
That said, she knows that you can’t win a major without a crisp short game, so that might tell the story. It certainly jelled Thursday when she sank a 10-footer on the sixth hole, an 8-footer on No. 8 and a 5-footer on No. 9, all for birdies, to finish off her round.
“I’m not a technical player,’’ she said. “I’m very much a feel player. Balance, posture, things like that are important to me, but as to where my hands should be or where my club should be at the top, it doesn’t really bother me.”
Henderson’s feel Thursday was top-notch. Just ask Brittany. Talk about living the dream.