A Major First
The Women’s third Major Championship of the year, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, was hosted by Sahalee Country Club, in Sammamish, Washington. Now in the second year of a unique pairing, the Women’s PGA Championship is being conducted in partnership with the PGA of America. This is the 62nd staging of the second oldest Major Championship in the Women’s game.
Bird Golf’s East Coast Director of Instruction, Mary Mills, is a two-time winner of the Championship and fellow legend and BGA West Coast instructor, Sandra Palmer, was honored during the week.
Sahalee has been the venue for two previous Major Championships. In 1999, Vijay Singh won his first Major when he won the PGA Championship and Bernhard Langer won the 2010 Senior Men’s Open.
Sahalee is a visually spectacular course which is breathtakingly beautiful but even more diabolical. The massive Douglas Firs and Western Cedars tower along each fairway some stretching over 100 feet in height (there are over 8,000 trees on the course). Picture Sherwood Forest on timber steroids. The contours and shaping of the fairways can often mean that a tee shot hit in the middle will find its way into the unforgiving timber.
Sahalee is a ball strikers’ course as evidenced by Singh and Langer’s wins (both of whom are ordinary putters by Tour standards) as they are two of the best shot makers of the modern era. It is neither for the faint of heart nor the wayward off the tee.
In Friday’s second round twenty players shot scores of 80 or higher on the par-71 layout.
Entering Sunday’s final round, World #1, Lydia Ko was a 2-under par for the tournament and had a tenuous one stroke advantage over Americans, Gerina Piller and Brittany Lincicome. A further shot behind were South Koreans, Amy Yang, Chella Choi and Mirim Lee, Canadian Brooke Henderson, Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist and Thailand’s, Ariya Jutanugarn.
Piller was in search of her first- win on Tour after a succession of high finishes in 2016 while Henderson was looking for a breakthrough into the elite tier of players. Nordqvist was in search of her second successive victory having won last weeks’ Shoprite Classic http://www.birdgolf.com/the-youth-movement/.
Ko was trying to win her third consecutive Major while the Tour’s newest sensation, Jutanugarn was hoping to win her fourth event in a row and her first Major.
18-year old Henderson leads the LPGA Tour with 9 Top 10 finishes for the season after having gained her exempt status with a win in last years’ Cambia Portland Classic. On Sunday she fashioned the best round of the week at Sahalee with a 6-under par 65 that was laden with remarkable recoveries and brilliant shots.
Under most circumstances that would have earned her the victory but that would be excepting the fact that Jutanugarn and Ko were seeking to keep remarkable streaks alive.
Jutanugarn shot a final round 66 but that was not enough. Ko played a superlative finishing round, 67, when carrying the overnight lead, which would have prevailed in any other year, but this.
Her 4-round total of 6-under par meant that she and Henderson would be in a play-off with Jutanugarn a further stroke behind in third place.
Ko, who at the ripe old age of 19 has set innumerable LPGA records including being both the youngest player to ever be the #1 ranked player in the world and to win a Major Championship (she has also won 12 times in her meteoric young career), would be the veteran of the play-off against Henderson.
Ko hit her approach shot to 23 feet on the first hole of sudden-death but Henderson would best her and hit her second shot to the par-4, to within three feet. When Ko’s birdie putt just missed, Henderson calmly converted hers to assert her ascendancy into the teen elite of todays’ magical LPGA Tour.
It was a very special Major.