Jim Morris/ The Canadian Press
COQUITLAM, BC – After Brooke Henderson was denied early admittance into the LPGA Tour’s qualifying school, the Canadian teenager gave commissioner Michael Whan several reasons to change his mind.
Henderson put together a string of impressive results in LPGA events this year despite having to rely on sponsors’ exemptions or qualification just to play. And two days after she cruised to her first Tour victory at last weekend’s Cambia Portland Classic, Henderson was finally granted full LPGA membership.
“It’s an opportunity that not a lot of people get,” the 17-year-old from Smiths Falls, Ont., said Tuesday before shooting a practice round at the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open. “I can start living my dream today.”
Having a full membership means Henderson won’t have to play Monday qualifying tournaments for the rest of the season. She faced having to qualify because she had exhausted all six of her sponsors’ exemptions.
“It’s a little bit surreal,” said Henderson. “The last couple of days have been an amazing journey.
“I’m still going to play my own game and go out there and do what I have always done. Just to know I have a place to play now any week I want to, and I have full status for at least a year, is really exciting. I am playing really well right now. Hopefully I can keep it going.”
Henderson had appealed to the LPGA for early admission in the past. She petitioned the organization to allow her to attend qualifying school last year after winning three times as an amateur on the Canadian Women’s Tour, but was turned down.
“That was probably the best thing that could have happened to me,” she said. “It made me realize what I really wanted in life and what I really desired.
“It made me work really hard, made me focus and be more determined.”
LPGA policy states that any woman 18 years of age or over is eligible to apply for Tour membership, but golfers between the ages of 15 and 18 may be granted special permission to apply for membership by petitioning directly to the Tour commissioner.
Henderson had the weight of a Tour victory behind this petition, becoming the second golfer in LPGA history to go from Monday qualifier to tournament winner in Portland.
“After reviewing Brooke Henderson’s petition, I have granted her LPGA Tour membership beginning immediately,” Tour commissioner Michael Whan said in a statement. “Brooke truly earned her card, and we are looking forward to Brooke joining our Tour and our family.”
Veteran Canadian golfer Lorie Kane said Henderson deserves to be on the Tour.
“It’s very exciting,” said Kane. “It was only a matter of time before that happened.”
Any money Henderson earns during the remainder of this season will be considered official money. The 10 remaining tournaments of 2015 will also be considered her rookie season on the LPGA Tour.
The win in Portland moved her to No. 17 in the world rankings, boosted her earnings over US$660,000 and secured her 2016 card.
Henderson can now concentrate on playing in the $2.25-million CP Women’s Open, which begins Thursday.
She was greeted with a round of applause when she walked onto the driving range at the Vancouver Golf Club on Monday and has been busy signing autographs.
“It’s pretty cool to be famous,” she said.
Henderson’s win made her the first Canadian to win an LPGA event since Kane in 2001. She is the Tour’s third-youngest champion ever at 17 years 11 months six days.
The past few days have been a whirlwind, but Henderson knows her journey is just beginning.
“I have big goals and big dreams ahead of me,” she said. “I am still a long ways from where I want to be. It’s still pretty cool to know I am competing against the best in the world.
“If I can continue to improve and get better every day, hopefully good things will happen.”