Brooke Henderson was seven shots off the lead when she walked up to the 18th green at Whistle Bear Golf Club on Sunday, but the atmosphere felt more like the Canadian teen was poised for a huge win.
Fans packed the surrounding grandstands, followed the 18-year-old in droves down the fairway and crowded around the ropes. She was way out of contention, but coming up to that final green, she received the sort of lengthy, adoring, and thunderous applause typically reserved for a golfer on the cusp of hoisting a trophy.
Instead, it was 27-year-old German Caroline Masson who emerged the winner at the Manulife LPGA Classic in Cambridge a few hours later, finishing 16-under for her first LPGA victory. She did so after considerable jockeying atop the leaderboard all afternoon with challengers such as Suzann Pettersen, Minjee Lee, Ariya Jutanugarn and Karine Icher.
Henderson – a major winner this season and currently ranked No. 3 in the women's world golf ranking – had an average event by comparison, finishing seven under and tied for 39th place.
Henderson described her four up-and-down rounds as "really close to being awesome," regretting a handful of missed putts and tee shots just into the rough. She predicted that next year she'll really give the Canadian fans a reason to come to the course, and to holler.
"The fans and the support that I've had, it's just unbelievable – I can't even explain it," Henderson said after the round. "I just can't wait till next year when I'm in the lead and the crowds triple."
She wasn't the low Canadian in Cambridge. That was her Olympic teammate Alena Sharp of Hamilton – world No. 55 – who was nine under, tied for 26th. Maude-Aimée Leblanc of Sherbrooke was seven under, matching Henderson, while Anne-Catherine Tanguay of Quebec City finished six under, tied for 44th.
Many of the golfers were greeted with autograph seekers, but none had a crowd as large and excited as the one that lined up for Henderson as she walked off the 18th.
"If I can try to help grow the game or kind of inspire someone to pick up this game, this amazing game, it really makes me feel awesome," Henderson said. "They were yelling my name between shots and high-fives at the end of the holes. And it's just really cool to see and a lot of fun. And I think, if about even half these people start to play the game if they didn't before, I think that would be just incredible."
After a whirlwind three-week stretch that included the Rio Olympics and the Canadian Pacific Women's Open in Calgary, Henderson said she will take a rare couple of days off.
She will celebrate her 19th birthday, which is coming up Sept. 10. The youngster will then fly next weekend to Évian-les-Bains, France, for the final major of the season, the Evian Championship. After that, the LPGA's best players are invited to big-money tournaments in Asia throughout the fall.
"I think having a week off is probably a good thing, going into the last major of the year," Henderson said. "I'll rest up, work on my game a little bit, practise hard and hopefully get things to a good spot and hopefully I'll be in contention in this last stretch of tournaments."
Although a Canadian wasn't in contention down the stretch, there was still exceptional theatre for the fans. Masson began the day three shots behind leader Lee Mi-hyang of South Korea and proceeded to make nine birdies to shoot a five-under 67. It was a stunning turnaround after suffering a double bogey on her first hole.
The world No. 87 withstood heavy pressure on the back nine. Pettersen, who was trying to defend her title in Cambridge, briefly held the clubhouse lead before bogeying 18. World No. 2 Jutanugarn appeared on track to earn her third consecutive tournament before bogeying two of her last four holes.
It was Masson's first victory in 107 starts on the LPGA Tour. She had Danny Sharpe,former caddy for Canadian Lorie Kane, on her golf bag. Tour players doused Masson in beer after she was declared champ – the German laughed, as she said she thought their drink of choice was fitting.
Similar to Henderson's experience with Canadian fans when she won her three LPGA events so far, Masson said she instantly received an onslaught of supportive messages from back home in Germany. She now returns to play her home tournament, the ISPS HANDA Ladies European Masters in Dusseldorf starting on Thursday.
"Golf is not that big yet in Germany. It's going to be huge going back to play next week; it's probably the promoter's biggest dream for me to win this week and go home to play next," Masson said. "I wish a lot more Germans will have a chance to watch the LPGA, a lot more girls to watch the LPGA. Maybe this is a little start to change this in the future."