Posted by: Mike Cornelius | July 24, 2022

Henderson Wrests Order From The Evian’s Chaos

A NOTE TO READERS: There will be no post on Thursday, as On Sports and Life will be watching baseball in the Bronx.  The regular schedule will resume next Sunday.  As always, thanks for your support!

The Evian Resort Golf Club, perched on the hills overlooking Lake Geneva in southeastern France, runs to slightly more than 6,300 yards as set up for the Amundi Evian Championship, the fourth women’s major of the year.  Four circuits around the rolling layout total a walk of more than fourteen miles, and that’s assuming all of a player’s shots are straight, a decidedly rare event even for the best women players in the world who comprised the field for this weekend’s tournament.  Yet after all the miles walked and shots made over the event’s four days, in the end the championship came down to its final eight feet, the distance of the putt Canadian star Brooke Henderson faced on the final green. 

For much of the tournament’s first three days, as Henderson steadily established herself as the class of the field through 54 holes, it seemed unlikely that the final 18 would produce anything that might lead to such a nerve-wracked outcome.  But as every weekend hacker knows, each round of golf – indeed, sometimes each hole within a round – exists independently of those that have gone before and all that will follow.  In keeping with that truth, Sunday at the Evian was filled with unexpected twists and unpredictable turns, right up until Henderson finally stood over that eight foot putt. 

Fans will be excused for not seeing the wild final round coming.  After all, Henderson, who had opened with a 7-under par round of 64 on Thursday, good for joint second place, one shot behind Japan’s Ayaka Furue, had been leading the Evian since early in Friday’s second round, when she started her walk with two quick birdies.  By day’s end she had fired another 64 to open a three shot advantage over American Nelly Korda and a fat five stroke edge over her next closest competitors.  An early bogey on Saturday, just her third of the tournament, was quickly offset by a birdie on the 3rd hole, and she added three more over the balance of her round to return a 68, good for 17-under through 54 holes and a two shot lead over So Yeon Ryu.  A two-time major winner, the 32-year-old Ryu was certainly a potential threat, but less was expected of Sophia Schubert, an American rookie who toiled on the developmental Epson Tour for three full seasons before finally earning her LPGA card, who was alone in third, two shots further adrift.  It was yet another one or two strokes, five and six back of Henderson, to a pair of more experienced competitors in joint fourth and a pack of five golfers tied for sixth place.

But golf tournaments are won by the play on the course, not the pronouncement of conventional wisdom.  At this week’s PGA Tour stop, the 3M Open, journeyman Scott Piercy appeared to have his fifth Tour win, and first in four years, well in hand.  Until he didn’t.  Piercy coughed up a four shot lead over the final 18 holes, finishing well behind winner Tony Finau after recording six bogeys and a triple from the 8th hole on.

It wasn’t that ugly for Henderson, but her day didn’t start well when she began with a bogey while fellow competitor Ryu was making an opening birdie.  One hole in, and her lead was gone.  But Ryu gave the stroke back on the par-4 3rd, and then suffered a shocking four-putt at the 5th, walking off the green of the par-3 with a double-bogey five.  Fans had barely recovered from that stunner when Henderson duplicated the ignominious feat on the very next hole. 

Still, as demoralizing as needing four putts to get her ball in the hole may have been, at least Henderson knew exactly where her ball was on the 6th green throughout the ordeal.  Just a few minutes earlier, while playing the same hole, Korda flared her approach out to the right, where the ball rolled to a stop along the rope line.  A woman spectator, hopefully attending her first golf tournament, immediately picked up the ball and started walking towards the nearest marshal, proudly displaying her find.  Rather than the reward she may have been expecting, she received a tongue lashing as the ball was hastily replaced as near as possible to its original location.  Korda might have preferred a different spot, as she dumped her next shot into a greenside bunker and wound up making double-bogey.  But three holes later the world number three had a far happier result from a bunker, holing her third shot at the par-5 9th to finish the front side with an eagle.

All this chaos eventually produced the most improbable outcome of all.  When Henderson failed to get up and down from the rough next to the 11th green, she was 3-over for the day and back to 14-under for the tournament.  Within moments, as other scores were posted around the course, the leader board showed not just Henderson, and not just two or three, but seven golfers at that number, all tied for the lead.

While it might not have seemed it at the time, given how her round was going, the good news for Henderson was that she still had seven holes to play.  While still only 24, Henderson has been a professional golfer for eight years.  She won her first major, the Women’s PGA Championship, at the age of 18, and had scored eleven previous LPGA wins, including one earlier this season.  Drawing on all that experience, Henderson first steadied, then elevated her game down the stretch. 

First though, it wasn’t Korda or any of the familiar names, but Schubert who broke the logjam at the top, becoming the unlikely sole leader with a birdie at the 12th, and later adding another at the par-5 15th.  But Henderson caught her with back-to-back birdies on 14 and 15.  Schubert had a chance at the home hole, but her birdie try slid by the side of the cup.  That left the stage to Henderson, who promptly hooked her final tee shot, the ball headed for the woods to the left of the fairway.  But the Evian had one last unexpected twist.  Rather than disappearing into the foliage, Henderson’s ball ricocheted off a tree and came back into play, settling into the rough.  From there she laid up on the par-5, then hit her approach to that final eight feet from the hole.

A three putt from that distance?  The ball hitting the flagstick, which Henderson leaves in when putting, and bouncing away?  Given the zaniness of the day, neither would have surprised.  Instead, the three-time Canadian Female Athlete of the Year restored order, draining the winning effort and securing her twelfth LPGA victory and second major title.  Exactly as expected.  Well, maybe not exactly.

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