AURORA, ON — As Brooke Henderson pounded her drive some 300 yards up the middle of No. 18 at Magna GC, hundreds of fans gave an appreciative “Woo!” for the defending champion, who was greeted by more than 1,000 others on the green on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Henderson was then five shots off the lead, but she remained the main attraction as the final action played out on No. 18. The hole is called “Awesome Again,” and the 21-year-old from Smiths Falls sure was at her national open.
No, Henderson didn’t make it win No. 10 on Sunday, and she didn’t successfully defend her CP Women’s Open title. As sister and caddy Brittany points out, “It’s so hard to defend.” Ain’t that the truth. But Henderson finished T3 and was in the hunt until world No. 1 Jin Young Ko of South Korea pulled away with a clinical performance after the turn Sunday, with an on-fire putter and a 72-hole finish that included zero bogeys. (No, she’s never done that before and yes, “It’s cool,” Ko said.)
Sitting beside the shiny silver trophy that Henderson won last year, the 2019 champion said she came to this tournament because she likes Canada “and then I like ice cap, cappuccino,” Ko said. “Yeah, that’s why I want to play this week.”
Good reasons, all. Henderson, of course, had slightly different home-grown motivations.
“I feel like I made a lot of birdies and hopefully made it pretty exciting for [the fans],” she said, after signing for a three-under 69. “T3, I couldn’t really ask for anything more. It would’ve been very difficult to catch Jin Young today. She shot like a million under.”
Ko did—a record score for this tournament, in fact. One fan put it best, seeing the sign that showed Ko was at -24 with just three holes to play (Henderson was at 19-under): “Oh man. Twenty-four?” And Ko wasn’t nearly done, before recording her fourth win this season.
Henderson would finish with a four-day total of 19-under-par, seven shots back of Ko and two behind Denmark’s Nicole Broch Larsen, who shared the lead with Ko heading into Sunday. Henderson began Sunday two shots back, and faltered with a bogey only on the Par 3 No. 13, where she missed a five-footer before rattling off two straight birdies. But Ko had already pulled away by then.
The momentum could’ve been different had Henderson capitalized on some early birdie chances. Fans “ooed” sadly as a handful rolled just short in the early goings. Her first birdie on championship Sunday was a three-footer on the Par 5 No. 7, named “Touch Gold.”
“C’mon Brooke!” one fan yelled. “Attack mode!” Henderson was two back at that point.
She drained her second birdie of the day on No. 9, but so did Broch Larsen. It was Ko that impressed most, however, on No. 9: Her second shot found the forest, and then she took a drop, which she striped to four feet to save par. It was easily the shot of the day. And a turning point, if you ask Henderson.
“I think that saved her whole day, to be honest,” she said. “To be able to get up and down from there and make par, that was huge. I think at that point you kind of knew things were going her way, and then she made two birdies back to back, 10 and 11. She was kind of off to the races then.”
Ko added: “It was huge par, I think.”
She and Henderson are good friends, and Ko said she’s “always happy to play with Brooke, especially here in Canada. More than fun.”
As they walked up the fairway on No. 18, Ko threw an arm around Henderson to let her know that the crowd was cheering for the Canadian. “She said no, it’s [for] you,” a grinning Ko said. “I like Brooke.”
“Obviously I would’ve maybe liked to have been playing a little bit better and a little bit closer to the lead,” Henderson said, of that walk up the final fairway. “She played outstanding golf. I mean, at that point she has it won and you have to celebrate it. Just as her friend and competitor, you have to celebrate how great she just played in front of those amazing crowds.”
Henderson told the crowd gathered at 18 that they couldn’t have asked for a better champion than her friend, Jin Young Ko. It’s a nice sentiment, but if we’re being honest, while the world No. 1 had loads of fans here this week, most would’ve preferred a winner in Henderson.
“I knew it would take something special,” Henderson said. “Unfortunately the putts right up front just didn’t drop, and maybe that would’ve changed momentum, but it’s hard to say. She’s playing great golf.”
Henderson added, “If I couldn’t win, I’m happy she did.”
The pressure-filled week is now over for the winningest golfer in Canadian history: The extra demands when it comes to media and expectations and fans are all behind Henderson, until next year, in Vancouver. “She feels the pressure, but she just handles it so well,” Brittany said. “I think that’s what separates great players.”
Broch Larsen doesn’t know that she would’ve been quite as composed, were she in Henderson’s shoes. “I was a little nervous about playing with Brooke and her million fans today, but we got through it,” Broch Larsen said. “The way she handles herself is unbelievable. Hats off for that. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t do it the way she’s doing it.”
Henderson said the week was “really fun.” And, she pointed out: “I feel like I handled it really well.”
Exceptionally well, in fact. Henderson is intensely competitive, but Brittany says her sister doesn’t feel let down about her performance. “She’s happy with the way she played,” Brittany said. As the pair hugged on No. 18, Brittany told her younger sister: “I’m so proud of you.”
Canadians all should be, really. Under the most intense spotlight you can imagine, with Brook Brigade fans in full force and the expectations high as all get out, Henderson once again delivered at her national open.