CAMBRIDGE, Ontario (Reuters) - New Zealand’s Lydia Ko and American Lexi Thompson are simply known as Lydia and Lexi on the LPGA scene. No surnames are needed for the two young golf standouts.
Ko, 18, and Thompson, 20, both made history by winning LPGA events before their 18th birthday but that exclusive club could soon welcome a new member.
Canadian Brooke Henderson, who landed a sponsor’s exemption into the June 11-14 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, sure hopes so. The 17-year-old wunderkind from Smiths Falls, Ontario, has already come close.
She held the 54-hole lead at last month’s Swinging Skirts Classic in San Francisco and went on to finish third. She jumped out to the 36-hole lead at the Volunteers of America North Texas Shootout in Dallas a week later but wound up in a tie for 13th.
A Henderson win this summer would not only make history and give her first-name status in women’s golf, but a victory likely would allow her to gain her LPGA member’s card.
The LPGA Tour has a minimum age requirement of 18. When she turned professional last December, Henderson petitioned LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan to attend the LPGA qualifying school.
But Whan turned down Henderson. Unlike Thompson and Ko, who were allowed early entry to the LPGA Tour because they had won, Henderson has yet to win.
So, for now, the only way she gets into LPGA tournaments is to qualify or through sponsor’s exemption. Even her third-place finish in San Francisco did not earn her a spot in Dallas. She had to travel across country to Monday qualify.
“A rule’s a rule,” said Henderson, who also has two wins on the Suncoast Tour this year and tie for second on the Symetra Tour. “I respect that.
“Both Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson won. Maybe I’ll do it at the Manulife Classic,” she added while at the Whistle Bear Golf Club in Cambridge, Ontario, for a media day ahead of the June 4-7 Manulife Classic.
“I’m in a unique position right now where not a lot of people are, being underage and trying to play a full LPGA schedule. I’ll just take it week by week and see what happens.”
According to the LPGA, the tour’s website traffic was up 216 percent because of Canada’s interest in Henderson.
Beginning with this week’s Kingsmill Championship in Virginia, Henderson will play the next four LPGA events. She also plans to play for at the Pan Am Games in July.
Henderson’s sound play has moved her to a Canadian-best 80th in the world rankings. She also has won $161,557 in three LPGA events, which would put her 29th on the money list if she was an LPGA member. But until then, she will continue to learn from playing alongside the LPGA’s best.
“I’m learning lots just watching them and learning about how they handle pressure on those Sunday afternoons,” Henderson said. “It’s amazing to see and it’s amazing to learn from.
“In 2008, I was at Ottawa Hunt (to watch the Canadian Women’s Open). I remember seeing Juli Inkster on the putting green and my Dad said she’s No. 1 in the world. Now I’m playing with her.”
Editing by Frank Pingue