SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – Make no mistake, Nelly Korda loves golf, a game it seems she has played since stepping out of the crib. The joy may not always seem readily evident to those watching her while she works diligently on her trade, sometimes appearing like a student on her final hour of the SAT. But when the game is taken from her in spells, Korda seems to re-engage with an enhanced appreciation of what she gets to do for a living, making millions playing a game.
This is one of those times. Korda, only 24 but in her seventh season on the LPGA, decided to take a few weeks off after she returned from the Cognizant Founders Cup five weeks ago and her lower back was bothering her. With such a big stretch of golf to play this summer, the World No. 2 decided to be cautious, heed her doctor’s advice, and give the back some rest. For a couple of weeks, she never touched a club.
She has returned this week in New Jersey, feeling healthy and ready to go at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club, the second major of the year. Hitting out of this week’s tough, steel-wool-like rough this week? No problem. As she pounded driver after driver into a faraway corner of the practice range Tuesday afternoon, a place out of reach for most, she displayed no limitations.
She started to say that major weeks are just like other weeks and should be treated as such, all that “one-shot-at-a-time” and “stay present” stuff that good players like to say to make their sports psychologists happy. But soon she simply could not help herself, and was gushing on about Baltusrol’s Lower Course, a setting that has been witness to so many great golf moments throughout history. It’s clear that Korda, whose KPMG Women's PGA Championship victory in 2021 represents her lone major victory, is excited about the venue and ready to start adding to that major title total.
“I feel like a major championship is a major championship at the end of the day,” she started out. “I know that's kind of the goal is to perform the best that you possibly can at these majors, and I think it's just a cherry on top to play at these golf courses that have so much rich history.”
“But honestly, they're amazing pieces of property. When I just walked out here yesterday (Monday) and I played the front nine, I couldn't believe what kind of condition the golf course was in. I think that the women's game is really making a step forward where we get to play all these historic venues.”
The top women’s pros will play Baltusrol this week, and in a few weeks they will compete at the U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links. Special places. Korda is wise enough to know that this week, it will take a special performance to land that trophy. She must drive it well, hit her irons accurately. She will have to scramble and be sharp around the greens, and make the 6-foot putts that keep momentum on one’s side. It will help to be flexible with a game plan, too, with rain in the forecast later in the week that could greatly alter playing conditions.
“Like, your game has to be good on all cylinders,” Korda said.
Korda spent the early portion of last season on the sideline dealing with a mysterious blood clot in her left arm that eventually would require surgery to repair. She played fine, winning late in the season at Pelican to go along with eight other top-10 finishes, but the results paled to the dream season that was 2021. Then, Korda had stepped up in the biggest of ways. She won four times, captured her first major (2021 KPMG Women's PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club, another venue rich in history), ascended to No. 1 in the world and even added a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. It was a year when her plate was full.
Korda has a lot of torque in her golf swing, so she accepts that there will be times when she is down with injuries. As a world-class athlete from a family filled with them – Dad, Mom and brother Sebastian all were/are standout tennis players, and older sister Jessica is an LPGA winner – that’s just the way that it’s going to be.
“I'm not the only golfer that kind of struggles with the low back. Also, when you're traveling four weeks in a row, different beds, flying out right after your round, sometimes you just tweak it, and you just need to take rest,” Korda said.
There’s a benefit to sitting out, as well.
“It's nice to take a step back, get a break in a sense,” she said. “I think it also makes you appreciate playing out here, traveling and getting to do what you love when it's kind of taken away from you, and you have to take a forced break.”
Korda has had a handful of top finishes to start the season, but said this week would be more about starting anew than riding the momentum she had built. She likened it to someone who has been out of the gym for a bit stepping back in. The first week can be rough, but soon, you’re back into the groove of things.
Nelly Korda is pleased – and appreciative – to be back in the gym.