NAPLES, Florida – Steps at the end of a tight race involve orders of magnitude more pressure than the opening gun. At the first tee of the CME Group Tour Championship on Thursday, Nelly Korda and Jin Young Ko waited as the dark Florida sky loomed. It was raining as they began their opening round of the final event on the LPGA calendar in 2021 with the award for Player of the Year on the Line.
Korda, who has become one of the faces of women’s golf in 2021, ignored the additional stakes. She finished Thursday six under 66 at Tiburon Golf Club, just two strokes behind Day 1 leader Jeongeun Lee6 in a tie in sixth place. Korda’s round was also three shots better than Ko’s.
“I don’t really look at the rankings like that,” said Korda, who started the tournament with a 191-181 lead in POY and forced Ko to beat her head-to-head this week to win the season . long title. “If you want my honest opinion, I’ll look at the money list and that’s all I see. And then of course world rankings. But I mean we are here. Everyone has a chance to win $ 1.5 [million]. “
In her press conference after the round, Korda emphasized the fun of playing, which was evident on the fifth par 3. Korda was walking down the dirt road from the tee with Lydia Ko (who rounded off the threesome) and they stopped abruptly to point to the ground. Then they burst into laughter as they struggled to identify the dead animal that they nearly tripped over.
“I thought it was a tentacle,” joked Ko. Jason McDede, Korda’s caddy, thought it was a decapitated squirrel or rabbit.
These fun moments don’t distract Korda from her craft. On the ninth par-4, the 23-year-old pushed her driver to the right. She paid no price and ended two meters from the dirt track in the fairway, but had to pull out a fairway rope to keep her swing path clear. Fans gathered around Korda and formed a wall of phones that took pictures of the reigning Olympic champion as she aligned her second shot. While Korda was talking to McDede about how to do it, a Florida police officer stood five paces behind helping control the crowd; Korda struck the green with a soaring iron and put the stake back without interfering with the activity to be aware around them.
“I just got assigned,” said Korda of the fans around her. “To be honest, I live in a bubble when I’m out there. I don’t hear anything drop. I’m like in my own bubble. “
Korda made the ninth birdie and finished three of her last four holes with a birdie on Thursday. She then spoke calmly of a litany of topics in her post-round press conference, from discussing the front placement of the tees (“I would like to know how far we played today,” said Korda, “because I think they were expecting a lot of rain, all of us. “), whether the LPGA should create a playoff system or not (” I think it would be cool to have some kind of playoff, “said Korda, really interesting and exciting. I think it would be cool if they deal with it. “) and what it means to be the face of women’s golf.
“I have a feeling a lot of people want to put a lot of pressure on you,” said Korda. “It has its advantages and disadvantages. I feel like if you keep your head down and do your job, stick to the game plan and stay focused and humble, I think everything will be fine somehow. “
Executing the schedule has put her in a prime position to crown a year with four LPGA victories (including her first major) as Player of the Year – and further strengthen her position as one of the faces of women’s golf.