JOHNS CREEK, Georgia – When Nelly Korda hit the first tee just minutes from the biggest round of her life, a lucky cross occurred. Sister Jessica, who was making the turn, walked over to the 10th tee and hugged her in a big hug. It was Jessica who paved the way for the promising Nelly in this world-class tennis family at the LPGA.
They’d texted each other at KPMG Women’s PGA on Sunday morning, but the quick hug felt like a perfect goodbye to Nelly as she stood on the tee of a shiny trophy that made it impossible to escape the gravity of the situation.
Five hours later, Jessica Korda was back on the court in her t-shirt and gym shorts, pulling her mom off the sidelines and onto the ropes to watch her middle child crown her crown behind the 18th green.
Tall, slender Regina stood stoically under a blue umbrella, her cell phone tucked away in her pocket, where it stayed for the whole round. So she’s superstitious.
Nelly had come to the final par-5 with a three-shot cushion, her dominance of the par-5s separated her from the field and the somber Lizette Salas. When Nelly’s 15-foot putt for par disappeared, she put her hands up in the air in a moment of sheer joy and instant relief.
Women’s PGA Championship: Leaderboard | photos
“Thank God,” said Nelly of her first thoughts.
At 22, Nelly came into the KPMG Women’s PGA, her 26th major start, the undisputed best player in the LPGA without a major. At the end of the week, children lined the barricades that led from the 18th green to the clubhouse and shouted their names.
On a sultry Sunday, Nelly fulfilled the promise she made at a young age to become the first American to rise to the world’s No. 1 since Stacy Lewis in 2014, ending a 2,678 day drought. She was also the first American to win an LPGA major since 2018 when Angela Stanford won the Evian Championship.
“I put a lot of work into it and finally got a win,” she said later on the 18th green, “or two wins under my belt, or three wins, sorry.”
Spectacular shot from @NellyKorda! #KPMGWomensPGA pic.twitter.com/2HLFvVqNhj
– KPMGWomensPGA (@KPMGWomensPGA) June 27, 2021
Nelly was in the zone that was so deep that she had lost sight of her success for a moment. As the only player on tour to have multiple wins in 2021, Nelly now has three for the season and six in her career.
Jessica Korda, who opened the 2021 season with a win at the Diamond Resorts LPGA Tournament of Champions with a 60 in the third round, clutched a cork from one of the champagne bottles christening the LPGA’s newest first-time major champion.
“She played so solidly,” said Jessica. “To overtake Jin Young (Ko). I have no words.”
Nelly FaceTimed with her father Petr after the round. He and his son Sebastian, currently ranked 50th in the world, will be at Wimbledon this week.
“You’re welcome to boot camp,” said Petr, referring to training at home in Bradenton, Florida after Nelly missed the cut at the US Women’s Open. The biggest lesson from this multi-day session, she said, was the structure.
Nelly was in tears almost every time she mentioned her family on Sunday. There are text threads for the siblings, Jessica said, threads with all five and one just for the sisters. The communication is as constant and strong as the support.
“To be honest, my parents are the greatest,” she said. “They would sacrifice everything and take our shirts off our backs. Without them we wouldn’t be here. “
This was the first time an LPGA major had been played on the Atlanta Athletic Club’s Highlands Course. Mariah Stackhouse, who grew up here, has called the clubhouse a golf time warp. History oozes out of the place.
After a sensational duel between Salas and Korda on Saturday, in which the two separated by five shots from the field, the fans loudly demanded whether this type of drama could be carried over to Sunday.
Nelly stuffed a 7-wood to tap-in for Eagle on the fifth hole and turned a second 10-foot Eagle putt on the 12th, opening a four-shot lead after a sloppy bogey from Salas.
The last time a PGA was played at the historic club in 2011, Jason Dufner led on the 15th tee with five strokes and ultimately lost in a playoff. Nelly had the same lead on the same tee and immediately dunked her tee shot on the intimidating par 3. She walked away with a double bogey and had a three-shot lead with three in play.
“I really don’t like this hole,” she explained.
Long-time caddy Jason McDede reminded his boss at that moment of what she had told him the first day – “I want to play one shot at a time.”
As mundane as it sounds, the mantra helped her refocus on a stretch of pars that took the title at a record 19 under for the Women’s PGA.
Lizette Salas now has the highest non-winner score in the history of the AIG Women’s Open (-17) and the Women’s PGA Championship (-16).
– Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) June 27, 2021
For Salas, who spoke openly about her recent mental health issues all week and recently considered retiring, this was a special week even without the trophy.
“I definitely won in other ways,” she said. “Yes, I didn’t get that trophy, but I think I achieved more than I expected. Yeah, like I said, I think that’s the beginning of something great. “
For Nelly, the goal of becoming Major Champion began when she was 14 years old and competed in her first US Women’s Open. Life comes so fast on tour, she said when she traveled as a teenager and ran her own business that she doesn’t feel like 22.
“I feel like 30 in a way,” she said.
The Kordas continue to build a strong argument as the world’s most talented sports family – perhaps in due course.
Petr Korda, the Grand Slam champion, met his wife Regina as a teenager in the tennis circus in what was then Czechoslovakia. It was around this time that a young Regina’s knee gave way in the locker room as she stretched. She fell to the ground with a broken kneecap. After being told that she might not play tennis anymore, Regina hit back and rose to 26th in the world.
“My father said that if that had never happened to her, she would have been better than him,” Jessica once told Golfweek. Petr Korda won the Australian Open in 1998 and was number 2 in the world rankings.
Now, for the first time, someone from the Korda family is at the helm of the world. When asked about the entirety of the family’s accomplishments, Nelly said that it is easy to get lost.
“You only notice it when someone really talks about it,” she said.
At this rate it will soon be impossible to escape.
Photos: KPMG Women’s PGA Championship 2021 at the Atlanta Athletic Club