Brooke Henderson has come a long way since her win last year in Portland.
Back then she didn’t even have LPGA Tour status. She was a Monday qualifier for the Portland Classic, urged to try for a spot in the field by her older sister.
She went on to become just the second Monday qualifier to win an LPGA event, and she did it in decisive fashion, winning by 8 strokes.
She was just 17 years old.
“It’s definitely been an incredible 18 months, turning pro at 17 and then didn’t have status on the LPGA tour, and was trying to play my way into events and just trying to see what would happen,” Henderson said. “I really took the best advantage of the opportunities I was given and I won here last year, which really changed my whole career.”
The Canadian teenager has since climbed her way up the rankings, reaching No. 2. She’s third on the money list this year. And she’s got a major championship — she won the Women’s PGA Championship two weeks ago by defeating top-ranked Lydia Ko in a playoff.
The field for the Portland Classic includes 20 players from 16 different nations who are set to play in the Rio Olympics this summer.
Henderson will represent her native Canada, and Stacy Lewis is set to play for the United States.
But South Africa’s Lee-Anne Pace announced Wednesday that she is withdrawing from the Olympics over concern about the Zika virus.
“I hope that everyone can understand that this was a very difficult decision to come to, however my health and my future family’s health must come first,” said Pace, who is ranked 38th in the world.
Several PGA players have pulled out of the Olympics citing concern about the Zika virus (including Australian Jason Day and Ireland’s Shane Lowry this week), but none of their LPGA counterparts had until Pace.
Ko opted out of playing in Portland.
Thirty-seven of the top 50 players are skipping the Portland stop. Many players are opting to take this week off ahead of the U.S. Women’s Open next week in California.
Normally the Portland tournament is popular among the women, but it was moved up in the schedule this year because the LPGA is taking three weeks off for the Olympics.
For the past 11 years the event has been held in August.
With her Portland win last year, Henderson became the third-youngest champion in LPGA Tour history at 17 years, 11 months, and six days. She was the first Canadian to win on the tour since Lorie Kane in 2001.
“It was definitely a huge stepping stone for me,” Henderson said. “Right afterward I did try to soak it all in. Then I moved right into the Canadian Open, where it was a huge celebration all over Canada with Canadian fans and that was really cool. It definitely was a huge accomplishment here and I hope that maybe this year I’ll win by nine.”
The Portland Classic is the longest-running non-major on the LPGA Tour, now in its 45th year.
The 72-hole event at Columbia Edgewater Country Club starts Thursday and runs through Sunday, with a cut to 70 after the first 36 holes. This year’s purse is $1.3 million, with $195,000 going to the winner.
Players discuss Zika
U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson is planning to play in the Olympics, and he said a meeting with USA Golf helped clear up a few concerns.
Johnson said the Zika virus was discussed only briefly. The meat of the meeting was about security.
“I think they’ve got it covered pretty well,” Johnson said.
The meeting had been planned long before Rory McIlroy and Jason Day pulled out of the Olympics in the past week, both citing concerns about the Zika virus. USA Golf is the national governing body for golf in the United States.
“I thought the meeting was good,” Johnson said. “It cleared up a lot of things. Still waiting to hear back on a couple things that all four of us had a concern about, but we’ll have some answers early next week. At this point I’m going to go to the Olympics and represent my country, and I’m looking forward to it.”
The meeting was for the four eligible players — Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler. Countries are allowed as many as four players in Rio provided they are among the top 15 in the world. Fowler has the lowest ranking at No. 7.
Spieth said he was “uncertain “and that there were “quite a few different factors that would turn somebody away from going.”
“I personally have not received enough information that would allow me to make a confident decision either way at this point, so it’ll be as we gather further information I’ll be able to lean one way or the other, and when I feel confident on either side, I’ll make the choice,” he said.
“I just don’t have a lot of information yet, and I will by next week, I think, have a significant amount more.”
Former Masters champion Adam Scott was the first golfer to pull out of the Olympics. He cited scheduling and family, though he has made no secret that he is more focused on pursuing titles that have more history than Olympic golf.
Golf hasn’t been part of the Olympic games since 1904.