Brooke Henderson wasn’t exactly sure where her putting game stood coming to the Kingsmill Championship. After flip-flopping four times this year from blade to mallet and back again, and then rotating through the putters again, she was searching for the feel.
She didn’t win at Kingsmill, but she left Sunday with a lot of answers heading into the U.S. Women’s Open.
With back-to-back 65s in the last two rounds at the River Course on her way to a fourth-place finish (13 under), and a flurry of birdies to start and finish her final round, it’s a pretty safe bet the blade is likely going to be in her bag in two weeks in Shoal Creek, Ala.
“I think so,” said Henderson, a 20-year-old from Smith Falls, Ontario, Canada. “It’ll probably be the U.S. Open putter.”
A 54-hole total of 200 at Kingsmill left her one shot out of a three-way playoff that Ariya Jutanugarn eventually won. Henderson opened the final round four shots behind In Gee Chun, who finished tied for second with Nasa Hataoka.
Henderson’s second-round 65 matched the best of the day Saturday, and her 65 Sunday was the low round of the day. She opened the final round with birdies on the par-4 1st, par-3 2nd and par-5 3rd holes, and rattled off another birdie binge on the par-5 15th, par-4 16th and par-3 17th holes, featuring a putt of more than 20 feet on the 17th to close to within one shot of the leaders.
“Coming down the stretch, I made a couple short ones,” Henderson said. “That one on 17, it was pretty long. It was not really a usual putt that I make. Just to be in contention and be able to make putts like that is really important.”
Her lengthy putt for birdie on the par-4 18th slid past the hole and she had to settle for par. On Sunday, she had seven birdies and one bogey, giving her 16 birdies and three bogies for the tournament. She birdied the third, par-4 11th and 15th holes on both Saturday and Sunday.
“I felt like I could really go low (Sunday), which is a great feeling,” said Henderson, who jumped three spots to 73rd on the LPGA Tour in putting average (30.05 per round) with an average of 30 putts per round at Kingsmill. “I kind of leveled off for a little while there, but then on the back nine I finished off with, I think, four birdies pretty close together. I came up a little bit short this week, but it’s good to be in the hunt again and feel that kind of adrenaline. To see my name at the top of the leaderboard is always welcome.”
Though Henderson’s putting hasn’t been where she wants it for much of the year, she’s still had her fair share of success. She’s fourth on the tour money list, including a win in April at the Lotte Championship and five top-10 finishes.
“I’ve been switching back and forth between a blade and a mallet putter pretty much all season,” Henderson said. “The weeks that I’ve won or that I’ve finished really well this year, I’ve been putting it great. Then, the weeks I’ve been kind of struggling is when the putts just don’t go in. So, this week to finally feel like I can make a lot of putts is great.”
For her career, she’s won six tournaments, including becoming the second-youngest player to win a major in LPGA history in 2016 when she captured the Women’s PGA Championship at the age of 18. Henderson plans to take this week off before heading to Shoal Creek, Ala. for the U.S. Women’s Open, which begins May 31.
Brooke Henderson’s sister, Brittany, is a good source to go to for evaluation of her sister’s game, considering Brittany Henderson is the caddie of the sibling partnership.
While Brittany Henderson says she has an innate ability to know when she has to pump her sister up or lay low, there wasn’t much of a need Sunday to offer inspiration down the stretch. Both sisters knew what had to happen as Brooke Henderson left the 14th hole trailing Jutanugarn by five shots.
“I just always sort of felt like we were in (contention),” said Brittany Henderson, who played on the Symetra Tour in 2015. “Not that we necessarily had a chance until we got those birdies, but we just knew we had a chance for a high finish. That’s always exciting coming down on Sunday and having an opportunity to finish in the top five, top three or first. You just keep pushing and seeing what you can do.”
Wood can be reached by phone at 757-247-4642 or Twitter at @normwood