Before 2021, many would have said that golfer Nelly Korda already had her break year on the LPGA Tour.
In 2019, the 23-year-old from Bradenton, Florida, made the cut in 19 out of 20 events, had a career best 12 top-ten finishes, won two LPGA tournaments and passed the $3 million mark in career earnings in just her third year on tour. That’s pretty tough to beat. And yet in 2021, after a pandemic-riddled 2020 season, Nelly Korda has been on a tear, making the leap from potential superstar to the undisputed No. 1 player in the game.
After finishing in third behind her older sister Jessica Korda, who took first at the Tournament of Champions to kick off the year, Korda won the first full-field tour competition of 2021 at the Gainbridge Championship by a three-stroke margin. Throughout the spring tour, she earned a handful of top ten finishes, including a tie for third at the first major of the year, the ANA Inspiration in Palm Springs. In early June, she hit an unwelcome speed bump by not making the cut for the US Women’s Open for the second year in a row. To say she had a strong rebound after this disappointment would be putting it lightly.
Within a two-month period from mid-June to early August, Korda won another LPGA tournament (the Meijer LPGA Classic), her first LPGA Major (the Women’s PGA Championship), the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, and became the top ranked women’s golfer in the world, the first American to do so since 2014.
Not a bad summer.
Winning that first major title is a moment pro golfers never forget if they are lucky enough to experience it. Korda’s Women’s PGA Championship in June came via a second round 11-under 63 and two eagles in the fourth round to beat fellow American Lizette Salas by three strokes. In Japan a little over a month later, Korda went into the fourth round of the Olympics with a three-stroke lead only to see it slip away on the front nine before building it back up with three straight birdies on the back nine. With two holes left for the final two groups, play was paused for a one-hour storm delay. Luckily for Korda, Jessica was also on Team USA and had already finished her final round, so the sisters chatted and kept things light during the wait.
After play resumed, Korda approached the 18th tee box in a tie for first with Mone Inami of Japan who was in the group ahead. But then Inami bogied the final hole, cracking open the door for gold. In one of the highest pressure moments of her career, Korda was able to hold par on the 18th and finish with a one-stroke victory and solitary claim to the Olympic gold medal.
“For her to be doing what she’s doing, it’s insane to me,” Jessica Korda said of her sister. “This is like total GOAT status to me. To win three times in a season, be world No. 1, going for gold.”
“The last 18 months have truly been a whirlwind,” Korda told Just Women’s Sports. “But to come out of such an uncertain time playing the best golf of my career, and to win my first major championship, become World No. 1 and win an Olympic gold medal all in the last few months is more than I ever could have dreamed.”
What makes Korda’s amazing run even more exciting is that there’s still so much of the season left. There are eight remaining individual LPGA tournaments up for grabs, as well as this weekend’s Solheim Cup, where she and Jessica will team up for the United States for the second time this year.
Despite all the accolades, Korda appears to be approaching the rest of 2021 with a very level head. As she prepared for the final major of the year (the AIG Women’s Open) upon returning from Japan, she demonstrated her commitment to staying balanced by opting out of the pre-tournament press conference to get extra rest and work out some kinks at the range. Later at the tournament, when asked about the pressure that accompanies the number one world ranking, Korda replied, “Obviously there’s expectations, but you just try to settle down and keep your head down and go with the flow.”
Her historic hot streak may have cooled a bit as Korda finished the AIG Women’s Open in a tie for 13th, but at just 23 years old and with a chance to once again make her mark at the the Solheim Cup, it’s clear that both her year — and her reign — are far from over.