Four days of astonishingly low scores culminated with Ryu So-yeon fighting off fellow Korean Choi Na-yeon to win the $2.2-million (U.S.) CP Canadian Women's Open with a jaw-dropping 23-under 265.
Ryu started the week by breaking the course record at the London Hunt and Country Club with a nine-under 63, and held the lead wire to wire, setting a new Canadian Women's Open record. She held off the hard-charging Choi, who finished 21-under, but fell shy of another record she was eyeing: Annika Sorenstam's historic, 72-hole LPGA record 27-under.
Ryu, 24, wins the $337,500 first prize. She hadn't won a title on the LPGA Tour since 2012. She obliterated the tournament record in relation to par, an 18-under 270, shared by Meg Mallon in (2004) and Brandie Burton (1998). The third victory of Ryu's career will skyrocket her from No. 9 in the world rankings to No. 5.
"I've sprayed the champagne on Inbee about five times, so it feels great to finally have her pour it over me," said Ryu after fellow South Korean and World No. 2 Inbee Park doused her on the 18th green. "I love being in Canada – my English teacher is Canadian, and the Canadian fans are always very supportive of me here."
Even after a devastating winter that killed off two-thirds of the greens, the historic London course was in excellent condition. The weather was ideal, and so were the greens, so the women were seizing birdie opportunities. The ultra-low scores had some arguing that the course was too easy for a national open in today's talent-rich LPGA.
Those who missed the fairways found out how thick and challenging it was in the rough, but few missed. The field scored 1,590 birdies over the four rounds on the par 72 course that sprawled 6,656 yards – that's more than any LPGA tournament this summer. Of the 84 golfers who made the cut, 70 finished even or under par, 15 of them by more than 10 strokes.
But not everyone had such stunningly low scores. Two-time defending tournament champion Lydia Ko only had two rounds under par and finished the weekend 1-under. The world's current No.1, Stacy Lewis, shot under par each round, but finished seven-under. Canadian Tour rookie Jennifer Kirby shot a five-under 67 on Thursday, but finished with two four-over-par rounds on the weekend to finish 3-over.
Canada's 16-year-old phenom Brooke Henderson was not only the low amateur of the event; she was the low Canadian too, grouped throughout the experience with the likes of major winners Lexi Thompson and Laura Davies.
"I look forward to holding up this trophy one day," said Henderson, looking over at Ryu's prize after Canadian golf legend Marlene Streit awarded the teen her two Canadian medals.
Henderson's two-under 286 tied her for 46th, but was the best total score for a Canadian at the event since 2010, when Lorie Kane scored a five-under 277 to tie for 11th place at St. Charles Country Club in Winnipeg. Although Kane didn't make the cut, the 18-year LPGA veteran stayed on and supported Henderson, walking the last five holes on Saturday to watch.
"She helped me out every day, even starting on Monday with the practice rounds," said Henderson, who made the cut at the event for the first time after missing it at ages 14 and 15. "That support from such a veteran on Tour and such a role model of mine is amazing."
Henderson, now the No. 2-ranked female amateur in the world, has made the cut in all four of the LPGA events she played in 2014. It was the best finish by a Canadian amateur at this event since 2003 when Park Eom-ji tied for 43rd. Henderson had some of the biggest galleries of the week following her, even though she wasn't in contention.
Golf participation has dipped in Canada in recent years, and Golf Canada knows the rise of new Canadian golf heroes is a vital part of boosting it, along with attention on the sport. Their research shows that 60,000 million rounds of golf were played in Canada in 2013, and that's down from 70,000 million played in 2009.
"The last great moment we had in Canadian golf was 2003 with Mike Weir, and many of our national team players now will tell you they were inspired by Weir," said Scott Simmons, executive director and CEO, Golf Canada. "Look at Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard in tennis – they're inspiring people. The same thing can happen with Brooke Henderson. Our national team programs have the best of the best to help our athletes."
The marketplace has become more crowded for people's time and money, while golf-course closings and declining sales of golf merchandise make headlines. He says the golf industry used to be reactive rather than proactive about marketing itself, but that's improving. Simmons points to introductory golf programs in 3,000 Canadian schools, new ways of teaching kids golf like bigger holes and team-style scrambles, or courses finding cheaper, more innovative ways to get newcomers out.
"There's a stigma that golf is old, white and elitist, which just isn't true," said Simmons. "It's affordable and open to everyone, but what are we doing to welcome you? That's a marketing problem, and I think it's easier to fix than one might think. Our sport needs to reach out to people in different ways and be more accommodating."