Brooke Henderson, Lydia Ko return to KPMG Women’s PGA at Sahalee, where they dazzled as teens

SAMMAMISH, Washington – It was an instant classic. Two hotshot teenagers, both ranked in the top 4 in the world, dazzling beneath the majestic firs on a course that’s name translates to “high heavenly ground.” The tree-lined fairways of Sahalee Country Club are so tight players have taken to calling it “Sa-hallway.”

Eight years ago, Brooke Henderson hit a dagger to 3 feet on the first playoff hole at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship to deny World No. 1 Lydia Ko a third consecutive major title. Ariya Jutanguarn, a 20-year-old who’d won three consecutive events coming into that week, finished solo third.

On Tuesday, the club honored Henderson with an honorary membership and a commemorative plaque on the 18th, which will play as a par 5 rather than a par 4 this year. It was after that life-changing Sunday at the KPMG, Henderson said, that she felt like anything was possible.

“Honestly, everything just went so perfectly that week,” said Henderson, who even won a car with an ace during the first round. “I felt like it was meant to be.”

Henderson actually gave the Kia K900 to her sister, Brittany, who still drives it.

Brooke Henderson swaps clubs on the T-Mobile 5G range during the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship practice round at Sahalee Country Club on Monday, June 17, 2024, in Sammamish, Washington. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/PGA of America)

While Henderson went on to become the winningest Canadian player in history with 13 wins, Ko — a 20-time LPGA winner — now sits one point away from qualifying for the LPGA Hall of Fame.

The pair, who are now friends, competed in the same CN Canadian Women’s Open when Henderson was 14 and Ko was 15. Ko, of course, went on to win that week in 2012, when Henderson thought she was doing well just by being in the field.

“Her career has been phenomenal,” said Henderson of the Kiwi, “and winning here in 2016, being able to beat the No. 1 player in the world at the time, somebody that I looked up to, it was a huge turning point in my career.”

Henderson put a new putter in the bag the week that she won at Sahalee, and she’s hoping to rekindle that same magic as she makes another putter switch this week. It’s been a weak point of her game this year.

“I feel like this year I’ve kind of tried a few different things with my putting,” she said, “pin in, pin out, left-hand low, more of a traditional grip. So just kind of trying to feel it out and trying to find something that works.”

Ko has been switching things up a bit as well, adding another coach to her stable in Holton Freeman, who’s a short drive from her home in Lake Nona, Florida. She’ll still working with Siwoo Lee, too, but isn’t able to connect with the South Korean-based instructor in person as much as she’d like.

Now a good 10 yards longer than she was in 2016, Ko will tackle Sahalee in different ways this time around.

“I’m pretty sure there are things I was probably better at when I was a teenager,” she said, “and now I have a bit more experience, so I think how I handle some situations is probably a little bit better.

“I hope it’s better.”

After that magnificent 7-iron from 155 yards on the first playoff hole, the shot that sticks out the most from Henderson’s final-round 65 was the 90-foot eagle putt she drained from off the green on the par-5 11th. That cut Ko’s lead down from three to one.

“My caddie, Paul, and I were joking that you could drop like 100 balls and not get it within 5 feet,” said Ko. “For her to have holed that, wow.”

Lydia Ko of New Zealand looks on while playing a shot on the 11th green prior to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Sahalee Country Club on June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Of the 156 players in the field, 46 have prior experience at Sahalee. World No. 1 Nelly Korda is not among them but has already taken to the place, noting that it’s easy to get lost in the beauty. She had her phone out on Wednesday during a practice round to capture a family of ducks.

“Overall, I think every hole looks a little different,” she said during a particularly upbeat press conference. “They’re all intimidating and great in their own way.”

Korda has missed her last two cuts coming into the KPMG but has already won six times this season.

On Thursday, it will be a reunion of sorts as the top 3 finishers from 2016 – Henderson, Ko and Jutanugarn – tee it up together for the first round. Together, they’ve won 28 LPGA titles since the 2016 KPMG.

Each has had their share of ups and downs.

A now-married Ko, who’s also a dog mom, said on Golf Channel’s Golf Central set Wednesday that she sometimes forgets she’s a major champion after winning both the ANA Inspiration and Evian as a teenager. Much has changed for Ko over the years within her team and her game as she’s grown up on tour.

For Henderson, though, much has stayed the same. Big sister Brittany is still on the bag. Her father, Dave, still looks after her on the technical side. Even so, a lot of miles, a lot of life has transpired since she first tasted major championship success on high heavenly ground.

“I’ve grown up a lot,” said Henderson, “have more victories out on tour now. A lot of good things have happened.”

With, no doubt, more good to come.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek