It became evident early on the back nine on Sunday that Brooke Henderson wasn’t going to defend her title at the CP Women’s Open.
Her game wasn’t quite as sharp as it was on Saturday when she shot 29 on the back nine en route to a round of 65 and played her way into the final group.
But Henderson – or anyone else in the rest of the field – wasn’t going to catch Jin Young Ko. She played the final 13 holes in eight under to ease into her fourth win of the year, going bogey-free in the process.
Ko became the fourth world No.-1 ranked golfer to win the title in the last five years. The only player not at the top of the world rankings who won? Well, that would be Henderson.
And make no mistake; while she didn’t get to hoist the trophy on Sunday evening, Henderson clearly won this tournament. She won it by just showing up and getting into contention.
It was the third consecutive year that she’s had a chance to win. Two years ago in Ottawa, she ended up 12th. A year ago in Regina, of course, she won. And this year, she ended up tied for third.
But in each of the last three editions of this tournament, Henderson has signed more autographs, posed for more selfies, created more memories, thanked more sponsors, high-fived more fans than any player on the grounds.
“This is an incredible event and it does mean so much to me,” she said after the round, flashing a large smile.
As her talent rose, so did the ticket sales. Each of the last three years of the CP Women’s Open has seen record ticket sales.
And the vast majority of those who put their money on the table (or entered their credit card info into the Internet) did so in hopes of seeing Henderson swing her over-sized club and lift a trophy.
During the final round this year, thousands followed her, Ko and Nicole Broch Larsen. The rest of the course? It was pretty sparse in terms of spectators, mostly restricted to family and friends of the players.
On most holes there weren’t enough spectators to fill out a baseball team lineup. That’s not a slight against the talented LPGA Tour players but this is Brooke’s tournament and they’re all just playing in it.
Henderson has a huge following for a lot of reasons, with the primary one being that at 21, she’s won more tournaments on the LPGA or PGA than any other Canadian.
On Sunday, a healthy walk-up crowd joined those who already had tickets in hopes of seeing another victory.
But that’s only the starting point.
The real attraction comes when you see that smile that lights up a room. Or when she high-fives a child going from a green to a tee, despite having made a bogey.
Maybe it’s when she slides up to the fence after a round and signs autographs and takes selfies for an hour or so as she did after all four rounds this week.
At the closing ceremony, she was honoured as the low Canadian, something the late Dan Halldorson once said was like being singled out for being the tallest midget.
The award is named after Sandra Post, an eight-time winner on the LPGA Tour.
Henderson accepted the medallion, but more importantly, gave praise to Post, calling her a trailblazer.
She does this honestly, clearly understanding the importance of those who went before her in Canada.
She’s quick to shift the praise, honestly and completely. She’s humble and respectful in every way.
Certainly she doesn’t have to be. It would be easy to make a case that Henderson is perhaps better at her craft than any other Canadian playing in an individual sport.
When I asked her about that this week, she again shifted the focus, mentioning Bianca Andreescu and Penny Oleksiak.
The talent on the course, the personality off it. Combine it and you get Brooke Henderson.