A year ago, Nelly Korda came into the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open as the second-best golfer in her family. This year, the 21-year-old Floridian arrives at Royal Adelaide Golf Club as the third-best player in the world and with aspirations for bigger things.
Coming off a breakthrough season in which she won twice on the LPGA, once on the LET and sizzled at the Solheim Cup, Nelly returns Down Under as a rising star. At an age when most kids still have a room at home, Korda is in her fourth season on the LPGA and fifth as a pro.
“I definitely feel a bit more grown up, more mature,” Korda said at the end of her stellar 2019 season. “Kind of learned from my mistakes as a golfer. Being out here you definitely have to mature to succeed.”
Korda ticked off a lot of boxes last year. First, she completed the Korda Slam. Her father, Petr, won the 1998 Australian Open tennis tournament; her brother Sebastian took the boys junior in that tournament in 2018 and sister Jessica captured the 2012 Women’s Australian Open.
Then Nelly teamed with Jessica to go 3-0-1 in the Solheim Cup in September, picked up her first LET title at the Lacoste Ladies Open de France a week later, got her third LPGA win by defending at Swinging Skirts Taiwan in November and ended 2019 No. 3 in the Rolex Rankings.
“It's a cool accomplishment to be the highest ranked American, but definitely my No. 1 goal as a professional golfer is to be the No. 1 golfer in the world,” Korda says.
A year ago, Nelly was No. 23 in the Rolex Rankings and Jessica was No. 13. While the older sister held her ground in an injury-riddled season, finishing the year at No. 17, Nelly pulled within shouting distance of No. 2 Sung Hyun Park as they both chase runaway No. 1 Jin Young Ko.
Korda has learned her accomplishments lift up others and that motivates her. “I've been getting a lot messages from little girls saying that I inspire them to take up the game of golf, so that's really something that makes me happy,” she says.
To match her Taiwan trick and successfully defend her title in Adelaide, Korda will have to outplay a ton of talent. On hand are Brittany Altomare, Ally McDonald, Morgan Pressel and Lizette Salas – all teammates from the Solheim Cup.
The victorious European team is also well represented with Celine Boutier, Anne van Dam, Georgia Hall, Caroline Hedwall, Bronte Law, Azahara Munoz, Anna Nordqvist and Jodi Ewart Shadoff.
In addition to Hee Young Park, last week’s ISPS Handa Vic Open winner in a playoff over So Yeon Ryu and Hye-jin Choi – both also in the field – there are two major winners from last year: Hannah Green, an Aussie who took the KPMG Women’s PGA, and Jeongeun Lee6 of South Korea, winner of the U.S. Women’s Open.
One of the backdrops of 2020 is qualifying for the Olympics in Tokyo this summer. Defending gold medalist, Inbee Park, has work to do just to get to Japan. She’s enters the Women’s Australian Open as the sixth-best Korean in the Rolex Rankings. Only four within the top 15 qualify.
Nelly, along with Danielle Kang and Lexi Thompson, would be on the American side as of right now with Jessica Korda and Lizette Salas – both just outside the top 15 – in position to work their way onto the U.S. team.
“It would be an amazing honor,” Nelly said about representing the United States at the Olympics. “I think I'm not going to think about it too much. Good golf will get me there.”
Korda, who started the year with a tenth-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions and T-28 in the Gainbridge at Boca Rio, is clearly riding an upward arc.
In 2017, she ended the season No. 27 in scoring and No. 47 on the LPGA money list. At the conclusion of 2018, she was No. 22 in scoring and No. 13 in money. And after last season, she as No. 4 in scoring and No. 5 in money.
“I'm still learning,” Korda says. “That's going to be for the rest of my career. I'm going to learn every year, every tournament about myself. But I think that I've learned that I can compete with a lot of these girls. I can win multiple times. With the work I've put in, I'm just happy to see that it's finally paying off.”
The first time Korda had a chance to defend a title she was successful, winning at Swinging Skirts. This week, she has a chance to go back-to-back again. That would be a great step in pursuit of that No. 1 Rolex Ranking and becoming not just best in her family but best in the world.