JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Not sure how you spent your Sunday afternoon. Maybe mowed the yard. Sipped some chilled lemonade. Walked the dog. Caught a few winks going horizontal on the living room couch, perhaps?
Nelly Korda, only 22, likely has you beat. (No need for personal concern, she is finishing ahead of just about everyone these days.) In winning the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club, a place overflowing with championship history, Korda captured her first major championship and rose to No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings. That’s a pretty good day.
It’s not as if she sneaked up on us. She has been the boulder bounding down the hillside for a while, one you know is destined to get here. Nelly Korda started playing in women’s majors in 2013, when she was 14. She had seen big sister Jessica compete at LPGA events when she was barely as tall as the gallery ropes. But with her own player badge on her visor, just walking up and down that range that summer at the U.S. Women’s Open at Sebonack, seeing all the great players, cemented in Nelly’s mind the career path she wanted. This was it.
Eight years later, just off Bobby Jones Drive at a club that revels in its championship resume, Korda fended off the one last competitor who was able to stay anywhere close to her torrid pace. When Korda made a 10-footer for eagle (her second of the day) and Lizette Salas made bogey after hitting wedge into a back bunker at the par-5 12th, we had a three-shot swing, and Korda had a four-shot lead. Korda no longer will have to shrug when asked incessantly why she hasn’t won a major.
She should win a bunch of them, frankly. There is nothing missing in the package. Length, fearlessness, timely putting, a knack for the moment … shoot, might as well throw good old DNA in there, too. All these years we’ve been keeping an eye on the Kardashians, maybe we should have been locked in on the Kordas.
Tennis success for mom Regina who played in the 1988 Olympics and dad Petr, who was a major champion, winning the 1998 Australian Open, and little brother Sebastian, ranked 50th in the world and on a fast track this week at Wimbledon, to six LPGA trophies apiece for Jess and Nelly. Next up for those two: chasing Olympic gold in Tokyo.
For all the family’s success, the Kordas never could claim a World No. 1 seated at the morning breakfast table. So that’s pretty cool. And as Nelly stood next to the beautiful KPMG trophy and thought about how far she has come, there was gratitude for family, the sacrifices of her parents, and her older sister’s generous mentorship. Trying to soak up that her little sis had just jumped to No. 1, Jessica Korda, having changed out of her golf gear and now sporting a Happy Land Mini Golf t-shirt, struggled to find the right words. She didn’t need to. The tears hidden behind her stylish sunglasses said plenty.
The Korda boys were in London with tennis on their minds, and it wasn’t taken for granted by Nelly that she got to share this incredible day in Atlanta with her mother and sister.
“Honestly, when I'm down, they're always there,” Nelly said. “Just having my mom out here is really nice. She followed me most of the week, which was nice. I mean, Jess is like the best big sister. No one ever … I don't think anyone can come close to her. She just has a heart of gold.”
The Sunday finish was a high note in a week that had been filled with them. Sunday greeted us with exciting possibilities, including the David/Goliath contrast of the short-hitting Salas, who nearly retired from the competitive game a year ago, and the long-bombing Korda, who at times on the weekend was hitting 8-irons into holes only to have Salas’ approaches with hybrids sitting closer to the flag. It made for a fascinating matchup, once again reaffirming that there are lots of ways to get it done in this game.
Salas has the perfect mindset to hang tough: You do your thing, I’ll do mine, and I’ll meet you at the green. She’s a lethal putter. After three consecutive 67s, the magic just ran out. Finishing at 16 under, Salas now owns the lowest score by a runner-up in not one, but two majors (AIG Women’s British Open). Just no trophy.
It was a grand week. On the grounds Sunday was Renee Powell, who would somehow display optimism and a smile standing in the middle of six lanes of speeding traffic on I-85. Powell, who endured so many obstacles to play on the LPGA, is a gift. She has taken on the admirable responsibility in making sure the legacy of Clearview Golf Club in Ohio — its first nine holes seeded and built by hand by her late father, Bill — continues to be an historic beacon in golf, a place where this beautiful game is open to anyone and everyone. We still have work to do there.
This was the seventh edition of the KPMG, a tournament born of a partnership between the LPGA, PGA of America, and a sponsor that really gets it. As important as the competition inside the ropes is — and the KPMG keeps bringing the top players to some of the game’s best venues, with Congressional and Baltusrol on deck — there are leadership and mentoring initiatives off the course that are having an impact on women continuing to break barriers in reaching the C-suite level of top companies.
Ah, back to Korda. She took over the main stage and broke some barriers of her own. She followed up a 25-under effort in Michigan last week (win No. 5) with a tournament-record-tying, 19-under performance on a course that was no pushover. Korda was mighty. When she got a little ahead of herself and flared a 6-iron into the water at the difficult 190-yard 15th hole, her caddie, Jason McDede, stepped in with a wake-up call.
He reminded her that when she hired him four years ago, she emphasized that she wished to play one-shot-at-a-time golf. This was a time to adhere to the vision. McDede’s words resonated. Nelly took a breath, gathered herself, and finished the job.
It was a job that all of golf was expecting Nelly Korda to complete, and she has shouldered the weight of those high expectations while, until recently, keeping most of the accompanying emotions bottled inside. With so much recent talk from top athletes about the burdensome anxieties of competing in sports at the highest level, Korda had displayed growth just in a matter of weeks, following an early exit at the U.S. Women’s Open.
She tried to view what she does with a new perspective. This is all about opportunity and a great job, and there’s no reason the number that one shoots on any given day should leave a person feeling glum at dinner hours later. Sixty-eight? Seventy-eight? Our worth is greater than any score on a paper card.
So, Nelly Korda has been vowing to enjoy herself a little more. A first major, and a rise to world No. 1, giving her a rare Korda family first? Yes, that was reason to smile. This week was transitional. A new star sits atop women’s golf. If keeping score, for Nelly Korda, it’s very likely one down, many more to go.
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