The world’s best female golfers have been competing yearly in this region since 2012, but on Sunday, the LPGA’s run in Cambridge may have come to an end.
It therefore would have been an ideal time for a Canadian to win the tournament, and when the final round opened, Hamilton’s Alena Sharp and Brittany Marchand of Orangeville, Ont., were both in contention.
But a Canadian did not win. Instead, three of the LPGA’s top-ranked players battled it out in a playoff. Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn sank a monster birdie putt and broke into shocked tears of joy after outlasting American Lexi Thompson and South Korea’s In Gee Chun.
Manulife has decided to end its sponsorship of the Cambridge tournament – one of two Canadian stops on the LPGA Tour’s calendar. Unless another sponsor comes forward, the event will disappear from the schedule.
Sunday’s final round began with Sharp sitting in fourth – just three shots off the lead. Marchand, a Symetra Tour player having a dream run in a rare LPGA appearance, sat in ninth, five shots back. Brooke Henderson of Smiths Falls, Ont., the most accomplished and recognizable Canadian LPGA player of the past year, began Sunday tied for 14th.
Henderson finished the tournament with the best Canadian score – six strokes back and tied for 11th place after a 71. While it was her best finish yet at Whistle Bear, the 19-year-old is experiencing a lacklustre sophomore season on tour when compared with her sensational rookie campaign that had three tournament wins – including a major. After reaching No. 2 in the Rolex women’s world golf rankings last year, she currently sits at 15th.
Henderson’s four-day card read 71-67-68-71, and she struggled to make putts. On Sunday, she continually followed up bogies with birdies and bounced around between the 15th and eighth spots on the leaderboard. She said she has switched putters six times this season and may do so again, searching for a spark.
“I feel like my game is so close to being so, so great,” Henderson said when asked what problems were troubling her Sunday.
“I make eagle there on 16 and that could have changed my day completely. I was two-under at that point. Maybe I make a birdie coming in, and then all of a sudden I’m in the top 10 and I don’t get questions like that,” Henderson said.
Sharp tied for 15th at 10-under. Ranked No. 68, Sharp shot a red-hot 66 on both Thursday and Friday, and went into the weekend with a share of the lead at 12-under before shooting a 70 and a 76 to finish seven strokes back.
Marchand plummeted all the way to 46th with a frustrating nine-over final round in hot and windy conditions.
“It just wasn’t happening for me – a lot of bad calculations today,” said the 24-year-old Marchand, who added that she made some bad club choices Sunday, but felt good about scoring two 67s earlier in the tournament.
“But it makes me feel like I belong out here. Obviously moving forward when I do play out here more often, now I have the experience of final day and tougher conditions and how to handle super firm greens and wind and all that kind of stuff.”
Jutanugarn’s victory was the sixth in her LPGA career and will likely vault her to the top position in the world ranking. Her 30-foot putt was one of the most dramatic finishes in the event’s six-year tenure.
“I just can’t believe I win the tournament,” the 21-year-old said. “I didn’t expect anything at all, because when I got here I didn’t feel comfortable with my swing. I didn’t feel like – my tee shot [was] not that good. I feel like just go out and play golf for four days. It’s like [a] surprise for me. I never think I can win here.”
Henderson, for one, hopes the Cambridge event can be saved.
“It’s very sad to see a tournament in Canada go away. [Women’s golf] is growing in Canada. Alena is right up there on the leaderboard; Brittany Marchand and I are all within – I would say a couple strokes off the lead, but not quite.
“I feel like there is definitely a great opportunity for a sponsor and some people to pick it up in this area.”
The most recent Canadian to win on home soil was Jocelyne Bourassa at the 1973 La Canadienne Golf Championship.