Sometimes you just need to go do the damn thing. That’s my challenge to Nelly Korda heading into Sunday’s final round of the Chevron Championship, the LPGA’s first major of the season.
If you want to be a generational golfer (and Nelly, to her credit, has publicly stated as much), it’s impossible not to view this opportunity as a golden one in her chase for major title number two. She sits two behind leaders Allisen Corpuz and Angel Yin heading into the final round.
Viewed through any lens, Nelly Korda has had a wonderful career up to this point. She won her first career start on the then-Symetra Tour as an 18-year-old. She won for the first time on the LPGA tour as a 20-year-old in 2018, quickly chasing that with two more wins the next season. She really broke out in 2021, winning five times, including her first major championship at the KPMG Women’s PGA. Turning 25 years of age this July, she’s won eight times in total on the LPGA, including the aforementioned major. She’s been ranked inside the top five in the world since late 2019. She won an Olympic gold medal in 2020 at the Tokyo Games, and has two wins on the Ladies European Tour. Like I said, a fantastic career.
But not that far ahead of us is a fork in the path of Nelly Korda’s career. Down one track – maybe we call it the goat track – lies a Hall-of-Fame induction, a cache of major titles, and a place alongside somebody like Annika Sörenstam in the fore of modern golf history. Down the other track, the technician’s track, is a career most known for an impossibly beautiful, proficient golf swing, though not necessarily responsible for producing as many majors as we’d all believe such a masterpiece should yield.
Jordan Spieth, at last December’s PNC Championship, said of playing with Nelly Korda, “It’s like playing with Adam Scott. She swings it so sweet.” High praise from one of the best in the world, though a bit damning when we consider Scott’s accomplishments (one major title) relative those of his peers. Earlier this week, Nelly revealed to reporters that she has upwards of 6,000 videos of her swing on her phone. She has an obsessive passion for perfecting the aesthetic of her swing, but we know majors are won with any number of different looking swings, sometimes not nearly the prettiest.
Annika won her second major title (of 10 total) when she was 25 years old, a bit older than Nelly today. And though she would rattle off her final eight majors after the age of 30, that type of success in one's thirties has proven to be extremely fleeting in the women’s game. The larger point is, if Nelly is going to get to four majors, or seven majors, or perhaps beyond, she must have the ability to go take titles like today when they’re there for the taking. Wield that painstakingly perfect swing, those enormous talents and show us you’re a killer.
Nelly, for her part, has been very clear about which path she’s chasing. She told GOLF.com’s Dylan Dethier in a May 2022 cover piece, “I want to be the best golfer in the world. I want to be the World Number 1, and I want to have the Grand Slam, and I want to work toward something no one’s ever done before.” Put simply, she yearns to be among the best of all time to tee it up on the LPGA tour. If that’s her goal, I believe it’s fair for us to want something similar.
This January, Nelly signed an endorsement deal with Nike. This was significant for the simple fact that Nike hasn’t really invested heavily in women’s golf since their big splash on teenage phenom Michelle Wie nearly two decades ago. That Nike believes enough in Nelly to sign her to what surely is a very lucrative deal speaks volumes to what Nelly Korda has achieved up to this point, but critically, also to what Nike expects Nelly to accomplish in the years to come. They’re famously in the business of peak athletic achievement, from Michael Jordan to Tiger Woods, Roger Federer to Serena Williams. Nike’s searching for generational greatness, and it’s impossible not to connect the dots to what Nelly is searching for herself.
Which brings us back to today.
Nelly will begin the final round at 8 under par. In the two strokes she needs to make up, there are five women ahead of her. They possess four tour wins between them and zero major championships. Corpuz, one of two women at 10-under, has never placed inside the top 20 at a major in her young career. Yin, also at 10-under, is wildly talented but also incredibly volatile. She’s banked exactly one tour top-10 since mid-July 2021.
The group of three women at 9 under includes Amy Yang, Megan Khang, and Albane Valenzuela. Yang is easily the most decorated amongst them, having won four times on the LPGA tour alongside a gaggle of top-10 finishes in majors, but at 33, she hasn’t exactly been relevant on the biggest stages since 2017. Khang is an absolute pitbull, to be sure, but finds herself still in search for a maiden tour victory since earning her card way back in 2016. Finally, Valenzuela is in uncharted territory, never finishing inside the top-20 at a major.
Taking nothing away from any of these women, all of whom have played phenomenal golf across three rounds at the Carlton Woods’ Nicklaus Course, none should strike an ounce of fear or trepidation within Korda.
This is her tournament to win or lose, and over the course of these eighteen holes today we’ll get to learn a lot about what Nelly Korda, the golfer, is all about. Will she take a significant step toward becoming the once-a-generation type player she craves to be? Can she show us she’s capable of being the world-beater Nike has bet on her to be, that American women’s golf craves? Or will it be a close call, an opportunity lost, for her and her picturesque swing? We shall find out.