KPMG Women's PGA Championship

Canada’s Brooke Henderson back where it all began

June 19, 2024


Jeff Babineau

By Jeff Babineau, PGA of America Pool Reporter

SAMMAMISH, Wash. – Sahalee Country Club, site of the 2024 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship beginning on Thursday, carries two distinct personalities.

Aesthetically, the sheer beauty of the golf course can stop a golfer in his or her tracks. The collections of tall cedars, Douglas firs and hemlock trees, some of them standing taller than 150 feet, hover over the fairways and present a snapshot that is nothing short of stunning.

“You kind of get lost in the nature out here,” said Nelly Korda, a six-time winner already this season, and the top player in the women’s game.

But beware. A player quickly can lose focus being seduced by the breathtaking scenery. Tee to green, Sahalee Country Club presents a narrow, challenging, tree-lined test, and the green complexes will keep a player’s attention, too. Sahalee is as tough as she is beautiful, and that fact will be lost on no player inside the ropes when the championship commences Thursday morning.

“I love the huge, towering trees ... it’s almost majestic,” said Canada’s Brooke Henderson, who won her first major, the 2016 KPMG Women's PGA Championship, here at Sahalee eight years ago. “Feels very peaceful and amazing – but at the same time, a little bit stressful, because you have to hit it so straight.”

Henderson, then a few months shy of her 19th birthday, would out-duel fellow teen Lydia Ko of New Zealand in a playoff in 2016, both players finishing 72 holes at 6-under 278. (This week, with the 18th hole moving from an awkward 420-yard par 4 to a 517-yard par 5, par returns to 72).

“The ladies are generally very straight,” said Kerry Haigh, longtime Chief Championships Officer for the PGA of America. “But even if you’re straight, there are trees that affect and influence how you play your shot into the green. It’s one of the great characteristics of Sahalee.

“The fairways look like corridors. If anyone has played Sahalee, they never forget they played it.”

Henderson certainly hasn’t. When she won in 2016, so much had to go right, and did. In the first round, she aced the 155-yard 13th hole, winning a luxury SUV that her older sister and caddie, Brittany, still drives today. Sunday, with scoring difficult, Henderson rolled in two monstrous putts – one for eagle across the green at the par-5 11th, one for birdie at 17 – on the way to shooting 6-under 65, catching Ko, who was seeking her third consecutive major title, and sitting at World No. 1.

This week, the club made Henderson an honorary member, and unveiled a plaque on the spot in the 18th fairway from where she hit an approach to 3 feet to set up a winning birdie. The victory moved Henderson to No. 2, behind only Ko. The two are grouped together this week, along with Ariya Jutanugarn, who finished third eight years ago, missing a playoff by a spot. The three will tee off Thursday afternoon off the first tee at 1:39.

One week outside Seattle eight years ago would prove to be a game-changer in Henderson’s life. This week, she arrived on property owning 13 career LPGA victories, and two majors. She is a global star, and it all pretty much started at Sahalee. Winning the KPMG Women's PGA Championship allowed Henderson to believe that anything she wanted to accomplish was possible.

“This place,” Henderson said Wednesday, “will always hold a very special place in my heart.

“I think back to eight years ago, and a lot of those moments, they’ll be in my mind forever. Just such great feelings. I’m hoping this week to go out and be grateful for the opportunity I have to be playing in a major championship, and hopefully make the most of it.”

A major championship in the Pacific Northwest? It is a rare find in golf, something as refreshing as morning temperatures in the low 60s, and players and fans alike are looking forward to taking part. The 1998 PGA Championship (won by Vijay Singh) was staged at Sahalee, and the 2015 U.S. Open was played not too far away, at Chambers Bay, a public facility (Jordan Spieth won).

“This is a golf-craved and golf-enthused part of the globe,” said Bryan Nicholson, PGA, the former director of golf at Sahalee who last month joined the staff at Cherry Hills, in Denver.

“Major championship golf, let alone professional golf, unfortunately, has not been a regular offering for golf fans in the Pacific Northwest. There is significant enthusiasm and excitement for this championship, and it's important that the governing bodies continue to include the Pacific Northwest in their site evaluations of championships.”

The players this week have been plotting their way around a golf course that few have seen before. Korda, a six-time winner in 2024, but coming off consecutive missed cuts (U.S. Women’s Open, Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give) says it is important for her not to overthink things.

The landing area at the par-4 15th, for instance, is only 15 paces wide, so players might resist hitting driver there. But doing so means leaving a longer shot into green complexes that can be downright tricky.

Korda plans to be aggressive this week. The less distance left into the greens, the better.

“You can write as many things into your yardage book and you can pick a game plan that you want to execute, but typically it doesn't happen that way and you just got to adapt,” said Korda, who already has a major win (Chevron) to her credit this season.

“Everything is about adapting, and that's why I like to go out and just play the golf course, and see the game that I have that day, and try to adapt.”

Adapting is something that Henderson was able to do very effectively when the KPMG Women's PGA Championship last visited Sahalee eight years ago. The payoff was a nice one, too. A new car, a big check, a nice trophy ... and enough memories to fill her heart for a lifetime.