Brooke Henderson has her Mike Weir moment
Major victory recalls fellow Canadian's historic Masters win
Brooke Henderson's victory at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship on Sunday just outside Seattle, Wash., did something not often seen in this country: it diverted many Canadians' attention away from a critical hockey game.
The 18-year-old from Smiths Falls, Ont., never got to watch the Pittsburgh Penguins win Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final — she was tied up with obligations incumbent in winning a major championship — but she made no secret of her happiness at hearing that Sidney Crosby had won his second Stanley Cup.
Henderson was just five years old at the time, but there are parallels in her win on Sunday and another victory by a Canadian athlete — Mike Weir at the 2003 Masters.
"I can't say that I remember the exact moment when he won [the Masters]," said Henderson in a media conference call on Monday. "But he really changed golf in Canada.
"When I saw [later] what he did, I knew it was possible for a Canadian. It was a big deal… It's just such an honour to now have my name up there with his as a major champion."
Henderson's victory is just the second by a Canadian woman in a golf major — joining Sandra Post, who won the same event in 1968. But there are also striking similarities in Weir and Henderson's victories. Both showed steely nerves down the stretch, pouring in birdies when needed to get a share of the lead.
More importantly, both saved par at least once when it looked like a bogey and finishing as the runner-up was a far greater possibility.
Weir was playing in the final group on Sunday at Augusta in 2003 and chasing journeyman Len Mattiace, who had gone out early and grabbed the clubhouse lead. A series of nervy putts allowed Weir to catch the American before he headed up 18 needing a par to force a playoff.
Though she wasn't in the final group, Henderson faced an almost identical situation on the 18th tee at Sahalee Country Club on Sunday. A wonky drive left her a tricky second shot between two tree trunks and under overhanging branches. She managed to advance her ball about half the distance to the hole, leaving an agonizing up-and-down from about 75 yards.
She made a 14-footer — about twice the distance Weir had on his 72nd hole in Augusta — that later put her in a playoff with Lydia Ko, the current World No. 1.
"I can't complain [because of the situation she found herself after her tee ball] but my third shot on 18 was the most nervous I was all day," said Henderson, in a surprisingly frank admission.
Henderson's approach wasn't as difficult as her second shot but she did have to navigate a tough angle over a bunker to the hole, getting it about as close as could reasonably be expected. Faced with a putt that is probably a one-in-five shot for a typical LPGA player, and less with the tournament on the line, Henderson rolled it right in.
"I definitely had the momentum," she said of the key par-saver, even if Ko still had two tries at birdie coming home that would have given the 19-year-old New Zealander her third consecutive major title.
When Ko failed to convert one last birdie in regulation, it set the stage for Henderson's laser approach on 18 that gave her a kick-in birdie to win on the first extra hole.
Weir also won the Masters on the first playoff hole after Mattiace made a mess of Augusta's 10th hole.
The day after Weir won, he moved to No. 3 in the world ranking, behind Tiger Woods and Ernie Els. Today, Henderson is second on the women's side, chasing just Ko.
'One more step to go'
There is, of course, a dramatic difference between Weir's and Henderson's respective victories.
Weir was about to turn 33 when he won the Masters and had already won six other PGA Tour titles. Though he remained a respected PGA Tour player for several more years and posted one more victory, the green jacket was a crowning achievement to Weir's career.
Henderson is just 18 and is about a year removed from her arrival among the world elite that started with a third-place showing in San Francisco 14 months ago, and later a T-5 showing at the same Sahalee venue.
Her debut win in Portland toward the end of last summer effectively made Henderson the latest teenage sensation on the LPGA. Winning a major is another level entirely.
"Majors are what define careers," said Post, whose victory made her the youngest woman to win a major until Ko broke the mark almost five decades later.
"I have a feeling there will be more with Brooke."
Ko remains the top gun and there remains much ground to be covered for Henderson to catch her. But, separated by just a few months in age, it's natural to imagine a rivalry develop now that the first head-to-head encounter has gone Henderson's way.
"There is one more step to go," said Henderson of her chase for the No. 1 ranking.
"There are three more major championships and the Olympics this year to do it."