She’s right there. Of course, it’s too early to get excited about who might or might not win the AIG Women’s Open. We’re at the throat-clearing stage of this major, the point in the proceedings where no claims can be made. If you are old enough and have a memory for the most obscure trivia, you might recall that Australian Rod Pampling led the 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie after the first round. Then he shot 86 on Friday and missed the cut. More people will recall the mighty collapse of Jean van de Velde, who led by three shots on the 72nd tee and wound up losing in a playoff after the greatest major-championship collapse of the modern era.
Carnoustie can make you look silly. Ask Sergio Garcia, who still feels as though the golf gods smited him at the Open in 2007, or Kevin Kisner, who led the Open at Carnoustie after every round but the last one in 2018.
But none of those facts can stop us from dreaming. That’s what you do on Thursday. When Nelly Korda finished her first round with a pair of birdies on two of Carnoustie’s hardest holes to share the early lead at 5-under par, our collective minds filled with the wonder of what might happen.
Nelly has played six times since the middle of June. Her finishes in that stretch have been a win at the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give where she carded a career-low 62; another win, her third of the season, at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, her first major victory which propelled her to No.1 in the world; a tie for 17th in the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, a team event with her sister; a tie for 19th at the Amundi Evian Championship where she posted three rounds in the 60s but couldn’t overcome an opening 74; the Olympics in Tokyo where she equaled her career-low 62 and won the gold medal; and, now, the AIG Women’s Open where she had eight birdies and three bogeys in her opening round.
Could she possibly become the first American woman to win multiple majors in a season since Juli Inkster back in the last century? Could she be the first person in history, man or woman, to win two majors and Olympic gold in the same year?
It’s far too early for that. We’re a day in. Rod Pampling missed the cut. But it’s great to dream.
“I try to take the mindset that every day's a new day. It doesn't matter what my ranking is,” Nelly said. “Everyone's going into this event prepared and wanting to win. That's the mindset that I try to take into every event.”
She got perfect weather, a little nip in the air and a spit or two of rain, but hardly a breath of wind. And she got some good advice prior to teeing off in her opening round.
“I talked to Karen Stupples a little and she was telling me that if you're in the bunkers in the fairways, it's very penalizing,” Nelly said. “Today was fine because it wasn't so windy. You can be aggressive. But when the wind gets stronger, just taking that 4-iron (off the tee) and giving yourself another 4-iron in (is better) because it's easier to make an up-and-down from (around) the green than (it is) to pitch out from the bunker and then have 170 (yards) in. Over the years that I've played links golf, I've learned that it's better to have longer clubs in. It's just a different style of golf. My wedges release 20 yards because it's so firm. (Again,) it wasn't windy today, so you could take advantage of softer greens from the rain.
“It's taken time,” she said. “The first year (I was at the AIG Women’s Open) I played Kingsbarns and I missed the cut there. Then I played Woburn the next year but that's not a links golf course. Last year we played (Royal) Troon. That was really windy. I feel like the more I play links-style golf courses, the more I'm learning about my game here.”
Ben Hogan won at Carnoustie in his only trip to Scotland. Tom Watson won here after first hating links golf and then becoming its biggest fan and advocate.
This is Nelly’s fourth trip to the AIG Women’s Open in the middle of what everyone recognizes as a career year.
You know who else won on links golf on the fourth try? Tiger Woods in 2000 at St Andrews, in the midst of an historic run that wouldn’t end until he had all four major trophies on his mantle. The greatest run of golf in history.
Tiger was 24 at the time, one year older than Nelly.
Yes, of course, it’s Round One. It’s links golf. It’s Carnoustie. Anything can happen.
But, boy, is it ever fun to dream.