Lexi Thompson, Brooke Henderson build hype for KPMG Women's PGA Championship

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Lexi Thompson, Brooke Henderson build hype for KPMG Women's PGA Championship

LPGA Tour

Lexi Thompson, Brooke Henderson build hype for KPMG Women's PGA Championship

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CHASKA, Minn. – Lexi Thompson stood on the range at Hazeltine National with a wide red stretchy band wrapped around her legs, just above the knee. It’s a drill that started at the U.S. Women’s Open after her father, Scott, who doubles as her swing coach and sometimes caddie, noticed Lexi’s hips were flying out too fast.

The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship marks Thompson’s fifth consecutive start, a first in her eight-year career. Thompson, 24, plays an especially small schedule compared to most, so this is new territory for the top-ranked American, who is already struggling with congestion.

“I’m not feeling my best,” she said at her pre-tournament press conference, “but it’s all good.”

Two of the most popular players on the LPGA come into the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship on hot streaks, ramping up anticipation. Thompson has finished no worse than second place since she switched to the claw grip for putts in Charleston, S.C., and had two lengthy grind sessions with her father after a missed cut at Kingsmill.

Brooke Henderson, who won the KPMG in 2016 in that epic playoff against Lydia Ko, became the winningest Canadian player of all-time with her victory at the Meijer LPGA Classic on Sunday. That’s nine career LPGA titles for the 21-year-old, two each season dating back to 2016.

Brooke Henderson holds the championship trophy after winning the Meijer LPA Classic golf tournament. (Al Goldis, AP)

Even the Canadian Prime Minister extended his congratulations to Henderson on twitter.

“I was hoping my ninth win would sort of come quickly so I wouldn’t have that kind of hanging over me,” said Henderson, who ticked off her two biggest goals in short order. Her record at the KPMG is outstanding: T-5/1/2/T-6.

Henderson moved up three spots to No. 5 in the Rolex Rankings. Her career-best ranking is No. 2, which she held for seven consecutive weeks after her KPMG victory at Sahalee.

To get to the No. 1 ranking – a place neither Thompson nor Henderson have experienced yet – Henderson said it all comes down to short game. Her work from 100 yards and in has already paid off and she’s working with her father, Dave, and caddie/sister Brittany each week on making her stroke more consistent and becoming a better green reader.

Thompson said the new claw grip makes her feel more relaxed on the greens.

“I think that’s what I needed the most,” she said.

At the ShopRite, she drained a 20-foot eagle putt on the final hole to hold off U.S. Women’s Open winner Jeongeun Lee6, telling her caddie Benji that she wasn’t going to leave it short.

The ball was running hot when it lipped in the cup.

“I think that was the biggest thing she could’ve ever done,” said Golf Channel analyst and British Open winner Karen Stupples, “because so much of her career has been defined by a missed putt on the last green.”

Thompson said the claw grip takes her right hand out of the equation. It’s a more fluid stroke.

“She’s putting with patience,” said Stupples, “like she’s not trying to force it in there.”

Seven players have a mathematical chance to overtake Jin Young Ko, who’s been ranked No. 1 for the past 10 weeks.

Henderson is one of those players. She’d have to win and have Ko finish 14th or worse and Thompson and Minjee Lee finish third or worse.

Thompson is the only player who is projected to become No. 1 outright with a victory on Sunday, regardless of what everyone else does.

An American hasn’t held the No. 1 spot since Stacy Lewis in October 2014.

“I honestly don’t think about rankings at all,” said Thompson. “I’m going into every event wanting to win.”

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