By Chris Stevenson, Rideau View Golf Insider
OTTAWA — The good folks at Smiths Falls Golf and Country Club might want to pick up Al Pollock’s green fee on Saturday.
The 70-year-old from Ottawa took one for the team on Friday and had a hand — it was his left forearm, actually — in saving the 2017 CP Canadian Women’s Open. Thanks to him stopping Brooke Henderson’s ball from going into the cedars on the par-5 sixth hole, he and the rest of Ottawa, will be able to watch Canada’s superstar on the weekend.
Pollock’s chivalry, okay, it might have been more self-preservation, helped Henderson make the cut on the number and keep the tournament interesting. Henderson had a 2-under par 69 on Friday to make the cut of +1 on the number.
Given the size of the massive gallery following Henderson, you might have thought she was the only player on the course. In the minds of many she is, so having her around for the weekend rounds continues to makes the Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club the place to be.
If she had missed the cut, it would have been nothing short of a disaster for the event.
In a crazy coincidence, Pollock is off to Henderson’s home town of Smiths Falls to play on Saturday.
“I didn’t see it coming,” he said of Henderson’s Titleist Pro V1x (a No. 3 with two black circles on either end of the “Titleist”). He threw up his arm to protect his head and the ball deflected into the rough on the edge of the cart path just off the fairway.
“You should have let it hit you in the head,” said one witness. “Maybe it would have gone all the way back to the fairway.”
Henderson gave him a ball and promised to sign it after the round.
When told he might have saved her from missing the cut, he said: “Good. I’m playing at Smiths Falls tomorrow and coming back here on Sunday.”
She got a drop away from the cart path and made an easy par. If the ball had hit the downslope and gone into the cedars, she was probably looking at a bogey. As it was, she bogeyed the par-3 eighth hole and needed a magnificent birdie in the par-5 ninth hole to make the cut.
“To bogey eight was unfortunate and I knew I needed something special on nine,” Henderson said. “So I was really happy I was able to hit the green in two and take a little bit of pressure off myself, kind of ease the nerves a bit. It was just a two-putt to finish.
“I’m really happy. It looks like I’m going to be playing the weekend. Hopefully I can shoot under par the next two days and finish a little higher.”
After Pollock let her keep walking the cutline tightrope, she parred the seventh, but pulled her tee shot on the par-3 eighth into the rough, caught a bad lie and gouged it out to 20 feet. The putt missed left to put her one outside the cut line.
Needing birdie on nine, she pounded a drive 275-yard drive and then curled a 220-yard 7-wood to 25 feet.
“I pushed it a little right, but drew it in, so it listened,” Henderson said. “To have that for eagle when I needed to make the cut with a birdie, it was a really nice feeling.”
She cozied her first putt up for the tap-in birdie.
Henderson admitted to feeling the pressure this week in her home game.
“I know everybody is out here looking to support me, to cheer me on. I know they’re on my side,” she said. “I want to perform to the best of my abilities. I was a little disappointed (Thursday, with a 3-over 74) after the way I played.”
Friday’s round didn’t start much better and a bogey on the par-3 13th pushed her to 4-over.
Some encouraging words from American veteran Cristie Kerr on the 15th hole seemed to settle Henderson down.
“She’s a great competitor. She was extremely nice to me,” Henderson said.
Henderson hit it close on 16, but the putt from kick in range spun out of the hole. Undaunted, she hit it to 12 feet on the par-3 17th and made it, punching out her right fist. She got up and down on the par-5 18th for another birdie and she got inside the cut line when she almost drove the green of the 305-yard par-4 second and got up and down for another birdie.
With so much on the line at the end, the massive gallery around the ninth was still as she hit her first putt trickled to the hole.
When it was over, Kerr and Henderson hugged.
“(Kerr) said, ‘more pressure than a major there.’ I said, ‘Yeah, it was.’”
She then made good on her promise and signed Pollock’s No. 3 Titleist.
She then reached into her pocket and signed a glove for him, too.
Henderson, who is off at 8:50 Saturday morning, sits nine shots back of the lead held by In Gee Chun and can go out and have some fun now.
“I mean, miracles do happen,” Henderson said. “I think that is probably a little bit outside my range, but I can still climb the leaderboard. I can still try to get my best finish ever at the Canadian Open which was last year (a tie for 14th). That’s probably my main goal going into tomorrow.”
She’s already a winner this week. Not wanting to let down the people of Smiths Falls, and Ottawa, and Canada, she took on crushing expectations and she showed what’s she made of with that birdie on 18.
And Al Pollock will get a chance to see her play Sunday.
Follow me on Twitter: @CJ_Stevenson