JOHNS CREEK, GEORGIA – The diversity of the LPGA Tour was eloquently articulated at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. While winner Nelly Korda and runner-up Lizette Salas both play under the American flag, they are also both children of immigrants. And that was only part of the story Sunday as Atlanta Athletic Club served to showcase golf’s global tour.
Tied for third were Hyo Joo Kim of South Korea and Giulia Molinaro of Italy. Also among those in the top 10 were Patty Tavatanakit of Thailand, Celine Boutier of France and Xiyu Lin of China. And a probe into the backstories of Korda and Salas is remarkable for both the differences that define them and the similarities that unite them – both as players and as people.
The record book shows the differences. Nelly’s most-recent victory was the week before the KPMG Women’s PGA at the Meijer Classic. Lizette has played 161 events since winning at Kingsmill in 2014.
The 5-foot-10 Korda averaged 280 yards off the tee in Sunday’s final round at the KPMG while the 5-foot-4 Salas hit it only 246. Korda learned the game in a golf academy in Florida. On the opposite side of the country in California, Salas’ father traded his skills as mechanic to get golf lessons for his daughter.
The crucial similarities reside in their humanity. Both had heart breaks in golf. Salas, 31, was second in a previous major, losing to a final-hole birdie by Hinako Shibuno at the 2019 AIG Women’s Open. Korda, 22, was T-2 at the 2020 ANA Inspiration and T-3 at both the 2021 ANA and the 2019 Women’s PGA before breaking through to win her first major championship.
The key commonalities that unite them is that they are both the daughter of immigrants – Korda from the Czech Republic and Salas from Mexico -- and they are both solidly grounded in their families.
The road for Salas has been long and anything but direct. In the early days that road to the LPGA was often driven by her father Ramon in his pickup truck as they traveled to Symetra Tour tournaments, some nights sleeping on the seats of the truck.
For Korda, winning is a family tradition. Nelly’s father Petr won the 1998 Australian Open in tennis; mom Regina also played professionally; brother Sebastian took his first ATP tennis title earlier this year and big sister Jessica has six LPGA Tour wins. And now Nelly has a major championship, just like her father.
“Jess has done so much and I honestly wouldn't be here without her,” Nelly says about her sister. “She's the most selfless person out there. I mean, she's five years older, so she has showed me the ropes of the LPGA, the ropes of professional golf, and I've been super lucky to have been showed that because a lot of people don't get that opportunity. If I'm struggling, she's right there for me.”
For both Korda and Salas, family is at the heart of all they have accomplished.
“My story began before I was even born,” Salas said. “My parents didn’t come to this country with very much and they worked so hard to give me every opportunity they could. Golf was not a world where a Mexican, especially a Latina, was supposed to be.”
Nelly and Jessica will both represent the United States in the Tokyo Olympics and the Korda sisters will play for the U.S. against Europe in the Solheim Cup. Salas won’t make the Olympic team, but she still has hopes of competing for a fifth time for America in the Solheim Cup. When she played the first time – in Colorado in 2013 – it was a magical moment for her family.
“This is so special for us,” her mother Martha said at Colorado Golf Club. “You don’t know how much it means for two Mexican immigrants to watch their daughter play for the United States in the Solheim Cup and now to have her be part of something like this,” Martha said. “We are so proud.”
Korda walks away from the KPMG Women’s PGA as a newly crowned major champion and Salas has to pack up some disappointment as she leaves town. But both should also leave Georgia with a peach basket full of pride. They put on one magnificent show at Atlanta Athletic Club.
Nelly Korda and Lizette Salas may have traveled very different paths to get to this point in their careers, but they are living proof that what matters is not our differences, but rather our similarities.Thanks to them and the others who scream out the diversity of the LPGA, golf’s global tour had a very good week at the KPMG Women’s PGA and Sunday’s final round was a very good day. Truly, it was a major championship in ways far beyond golf.