How Nelly Korda became the best – and most affordable – golfer on tour

Nelly Korda posted a record streak of five straight wins at LPGA events – Getty Images/Andy Lyons

Nelly Korda’s run is over, but her reign is just beginning. If the American has proven one thing over the past five months, it is that there is an undisputed No. 1 in women’s football with the style, strength and spirit to stay there for seasons to come.

Of course, in life, and especially in the fickle madness of golf, there is no such thing as a done deal. Given what she’s been through, no one needs to remind Korda of that, regardless of her record streak of five straight wins at LPGA events that ended last weekend in New Jersey. But the fact that her emergence at just 25 years old actually seems too late tells you everything you need to know about the extent of her talent.

“When Nelly topped the rankings for the first time three years ago, when she won her first major [the Women’s PGA] and then Olympic gold, I thought she would dominate from then on,” her coach David Whelan told Telegraph Sport. “But things happen. There was the [blood] clot in her arm and the fears then became about more than just golf, which was a big challenge for a young person to deal with. When she came back, there was last year’s problem. She’s at it again now and I’ll say it, I think she’ll continue to dominate for a while.

Whelan, a former European Tour winner from Sunderland, has known Korda since she was 15. Whelan, based in Bradenton, Florida, also coached her older sister Jessica, who is herself a six-time winner on the LPGA Tour but stepped away from the game after giving birth. Nelly’s parents – Petr, the 1998 Australian Open tennis champion, and Regina Rajchrtova, also a tennis pro (son Seb has gone the tennis route and is ranked in the top 30 in the world) – asked Whelan to help their daughter and he has cooperated with her occasionally through the juniors and above, overseeing a swing known as the “Mona Lisa of golf.”

“Nelly will be the first to say that I changed her swing a lot, but she is naturally talented,” he says. “Everyone talks about the aesthetic quality of her swing, but what I would say is that she has an incredibly short game and that gives her a huge advantage on the LPGA Tour. I’ve never understood why the women on the green aren’t as good as the men, because it’s not about strength.

“The facilities at their events are not as good as the men’s, but the Concession course, where Nelly lives and is close to my house, has excellent facilities. I was lucky to know Seve [Ballesteros] and Nelly looks at things and spends hours trying these different pictures. She’s not someone who hits 500 irons. She’s comfortable enough with that part of her game. And know that hitting balls won’t do her any good in the end.”

Whelan points out that her commitment in 2024 is key. “If you look at the stats, they’re not much different everywhere else, maybe a little bit, but on the greens she was exceptional,” he says. ‘It looks a bit like Jack [Nicklaus] and Tiger [Woods]. They were the best putters and with their long and short games they knew that if they had even an average putting week by their standards they would be up there and probably win. That should give you enormous confidence.”

Korda’s mental conditioning is also clearly visible as she brought the rest to their knees. As an analyst for Golf Channel, Karen Stupples, the 2004 Women’s Open champion from Kent, enjoyed a front-row seat to the quintet of wins.

Nelly Korda celebrates winning the T-Mobile MatchplayNelly Korda celebrates winning the T-Mobile Matchplay

Korda celebrates winning the T-Mobile Match Play – Getty Images/Orlando Ramirez

“There’s something like a perfect blend going on, because Nelly not only has the swing, the great athleticism and the vision and touch, but he also has the strength of mind,” Stupples says. “It’s the resilience. Without that, you can’t get over the humps, no matter how good your swing is, or how good you hit or bat or putt or whatever.

“Look what Nelly has done this year and it is quite remarkable. She won first in January, then left for seven weeks, came back and got right back on the winning path. There was adversity in that run. Two of those titles were won in the play-offs, after which there was bad weather and a match play event took place.

“To top it all off, she went to the major [Chevron Championship] and with all the focus on her and the pressure to tie the LPGA record [for winning streaks] with two legends [Annika Sorenstam and Nancy Lopez], she came through. There is a quiet but extraordinary self-confidence there. Nelly is confident that she can win and is in her element.

“I talked to her at the shooting range in Phoenix [for the Ford Championship] and the conditions were dire and while the others looked gloomy, she had a big smile on her face as she said to me, ‘I love my job, I love it. I can’t wait to get out of there.”

“She’s living her dream, no matter what Mother Nature does, and, let’s face it, her family’s dream because they’re all winners.”

However, this is not just a personal or family success, but a victory for the LPGA Tour. As Stupples says, “the women’s game is desperate for eyeballs” and in “Nelly the Elegant” lies the marketer’s dream. That has helped make her the top-ranked golfer on Forbes’ list of the world’s highest-paid female athletes at 11th, with estimated 2023 earnings of $8.2 million (£6.6 million) – and $6 .5 million of that came from its impressive portfolio of sponsors. . Her presence at the recent Met Gala, New York’s glamorous fashion event, also helped raise awareness for her and golf.

“It was a big moment because it was mainstream and when you see our world number one next to celebrities who are incredibly famous, it attracts a lot of attention,” says Stupples. “We don’t get publicity like this very often and it’s a huge opportunity. You know, there’s talk of Nelly as Caitlin Clark for women’s golf [the basketball player who has attracted unprecedented TV figures].”

Of course there is danger in that. Solheim Cup captain Stacy Lewis believes that to capitalize on the interest in women’s sports, Korda needs to increase her media exposure and devote at least a few hours a week. But Whelan emphasizes that there must be a balance.

“I always said that every logo has a price and that the sponsors need its time,” he says. ‘But the great thing now is that her profile is so big that she can say what she does and doesn’t do. The same goes for publicity.”

Stupples agrees: “You understand the need to make the most of this, but you don’t want to hinder her greatness in the process. Nelly is not hungry for fame. There’s a natural shyness and I think a lot of great players have that kind of personality because that’s what draws them to golf in the first place. This is a balancing act and it is important for the LPGA Tour that they get it right because Nelly is just going to get bigger and bigger.”

As a grizzled veteran, Whelan is willing to offer the caveat that “nothing is certain” and also points to an immediate challenge for Korda as she heads into what could be a magical summer defending her Olympic gold in Paris.

“Due to the sporadic nature of the campaign so far, where events did not take place in groups, the very best Koreans have not traveled to America as often,” he said. “But now, with the US Women’s Open at the end of the month and quite a string of events after that, they will come along and that will be a task for Nelly. She will achieve that though, and I think she might have a few more majors in her this campaign.

“There are of course the Olympics, but for me the icing on the cake would be the Open at St. Andrews. The house of golf. That would take her to another level.”

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