JOHNS CREEK, Ga. | For the Kordas, winning is a way of life. Papa Petr captured the 1998 Australian Open in tennis; mom Regina also played professionally; brother Sebastian took an ATP tennis title earlier this year and big sister Jessica has six LPGA Tour victories. Now Nelly is a major champion.
Korda added a glittering trophy to the family jewels, making her sixth victory the KMPG Women’s PGA Championship. In doing so, she reached No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings, the first American to do so since Stacy Lewis in 2014. Nelly will also join Jessica in Tokyo on the U.S. Olympic team with a chance Seb might be there as well.
“That has a lovely ring to it, not going to lie,” Korda said when she was introduced to the media as a major champion. “It's been amazing, honestly,” she said after backing up last week’s victory at the Meijer Classic with the biggest triumph of her career.
“The past few days, the battle with Lizette, it's been a lot of fun,” she said. “It's been stressful. I think it's had everything. But I just can't believe it. I'm still in shock.”
Korda and Lizette Salas waged a spirit showdown. They began tied at 15 under par, five strokes ahead of Patty Tavatanakit, Celine Boutier and Giulia Molinaro and it remained a two-woman tussle that was as much about will as it was about skill. Salas absorbed the best Korda had to offer until Nelly’s power ultimate carried the day.
Fueled by a pair of eagles, Korda closed with a 68 to finish 19-under-par 269 while Salas posted a 71 to be at 272. Molinaro and Hyo Joo Kim tied for third at 278 while Tavatanakit and 2017 Women’s PGA champion Danielle Kang were at 280. Boutier and Austin Ernst finished at 281 with Amy Yang, Cydney Clanton and Xiyu Lin at 282.
Atlanta Athletic Club – the sixth consecutive venue to host the Women’s PGA that previously held a men’s major – proved to be a test of both shot making and decision making. PGA course set-up guru Kerry Haigh moved around tees to create a drivable par-4 and some reachable par-5s while tucking hole locations close to watery penalty areas, forcing players to make risk/reward decisions.
Korda took full advantage of the opportunities created by her distance advantage off the tee, making two eagles on Sunday that didn’t total 10 feet combined. On No. 5, she hit a 7-wood from 243 yards to 18 inches and on No. 12 she feathered an iron on her second shot over water to eight feet.
“I pretty much dominated a lot of the par-5s,” Korda said. “I hit the ball really well, putted my putts. I just honestly -- everything was on, and when you look back on weeks like this, it's really special, and you don't take it for granted. I'm really grateful for all the work and for my family constantly pushing me.”
Salas hung tough until No. 12 when she hit a lay-up on the par-5 and then followed the brilliant iron shot by Korda by hitting into the back bunker and making a bogey. Korda’s eagle gave her a four-stroke lead that grew to five with a birdie on No. 14. She gave two strokes back when she found the water on No. 15 and made a double bogey but that’s as close as Salas got.
“I’m extremely proud,” said Salas, who also was runner-up in the 2019 AIG Women’s Open. “We came in with a goal and I think we exceeded it. When things weren't going my way, I still said, I'm okay. There's just a lot going on right now. There's a lot of emotion. I'm really grateful for being in this position and for fighting until the end.”
Salas was shaky early but made gutsy par-saving putts on Nos. 1 and 2. Korda countered with a birdie on No. 3 and the sensational eagle on No. 5. But Salas made a birdie on No. 5 and followed it with another on No. 6 to stay within one despite being out-driven by more than 30 yards on average by Korda throughout their weekend matchup.
“I played great this week, and I think this is the start of something great,” Salas said. “We racked up some Solheim Cup points, and the beautiful thing is there's two American flags on top of that leaderboard.”
Between them, Nelly and Jessica Korda now have 12 LPGA Tour victories and a major championship. That Nelly, 22, got a major before 28-year-old Jessica, is likely something that will come up when the five Kordas gather around the family table at the next holiday meal. But this is a family that is all about support.
“Honestly, when I'm down, they're always there,” says Nelly. “Just having my mom out here is really nice. She followed me most of the week, which was nice. I mean, Jess is like the best big sister. I don't think anyone can come close to her. She just has a heart of gold.”
And now Nelly not only joins Dad as a major champion and she is the No. 1 player in women’s golf. That’s a pretty big challenge to throw out to her big sister. But if there is one thing these Kordas have proven – they know how to win, and they know how to lean on each other.