Leading By One After Three
The emergence of Canadian Brooke Henderson was not a shock. She’s won a lot of important events up North. Everyone up there knows exactly who she is, and the fans down south are catching on, especially this week, as Ms. Henderson proves that there is more than one seventeen-year-old ready to make a statement.
The third round that left Henderson in a one-stroke lead at the Swinging Skirts heading into Sunday could have been better. At one point, she led by five over some tough company that includes the ubiquitous Lydia Ko, Stacy Lewis, Sandra Gal, and a hungry Morgan Pressel, who has been playing some exceptional golf of late, but who hasn’t won in seven years. Unfortunately for Henderson, she found a bit of trouble here and there on the second nine, and goes into the fourth round with a slight lead, not the multi-shot lead she might have otherwise enjoyed.
It was clear months ago that Brooke Henderson would have her day, and she has emphasized the point, even if she doesn’t win tomorrow. After all, she doesn’t even enjoy full playing privileges on the LPGA Tour. Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson both got exemptions from being under-age, but Henderson’s application was denied. She plays from time to time on the tour through sponsors’ exemptions, but if she keeps this up, that whole scenario might change…on Monday morning.
As I’ve watched the talented newcomers arrive through the years, it begins to become apparent that there are not only two kinds of winning, but two phases of winning that the best go through. The first phase usually happens quickly, within a year or two, and the second one can only be seen through time. For example, when Lydia Ko won the Canadian Open at such a ridiculously early age, it was great. She took care of phase I right off the bat – she won something. But that happens, perhaps not at the age of fourteen, but eventually. That proves that the player is able to compete at the highest level, and is worthy of being on the tour, and being called a winner. Phase I is what Brooke Henderson will be working on tomorrow, winning for the first time.
Phase II, however, is a different question. In Lydia’s case, she didn’t just win a tournament…or two, or three. More importantly for the long run, she was in contention virtually every week, all the time. When one is habitually in the top five or six every week, one is going to win her fair share of events. Ko has made her case for Phase II crystal clear. As long as she’s healthy and taking the game seriously as a competitor, Lydia Ko will be dangerous almost all of the time. It’s interesting that she doesn’t go out and shoot a lot of 62s. She just keeps playing below par, day in and day out, and in the end, most of her colleagues can’t keep up with the consistency and lack of mistakes. They can shoot 62s, but they can’t hang with Ko two, three, and four days in a row much of the time. Henderson’s next test, after her first win, this week or another, will be to duplicate Ko’s feat, the art of being dangerous all the time.
Tomorrow is not as crucial to Phase I as Henderson might think. No one wants to lose a fourth round lead and go home without the trophy, but it often happens. Clearly, though, she can win, and I’m ready to concede Phase I and start watching her for signs of Phase II. That, I believe, has a very good possibility of materializing soon – that is, if some commissioner gets his head on straight the next time he looks at her resume.