It’s Nelly Korda time. How far can she take the LPGA?

Nelly Korda

Nelly Korda looks to win a fifth straight event at this week's Chevron Championship.

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Nelly Korda’s press conference started a few minutes late on Tuesday afternoon, not because the World No. 1 was late herself (as is often the reason to blame for a pro’s media tardiness), but because she was busy talking with other media. As in the host of ESPN’s SportsCenter

To the victor go these spoils. When you win a bunch of golf tournaments — Korda has won four starts in a row — SportsCenter comes calling. (Scottie Scheffler found this as well, doing a SportsCenter hit of his own after a press conference Wednesday.) Korda is the story this week and rightfully so; her quest for consecutive win No. 5 comes at the first women’s major of the year. Just how far will that story spread?

The timing of Korda’s dominance is hard to ignore. It comes on the heels of the most-viewed NCAA Women’s Basketball tournament ever and the most-viewed WNBA Draft ever, both by an incredibly wide margin. It comes in the wake of women’s volleyball becoming a popular TV product for ESPN. And it comes as the National Women’s Soccer League continues to grow and see franchise values increase, too. There is a newfound penchant for women’s sports in America from both fans and investors. Naturally, Korda’s name has led the LPGA’s entry into that discussion. 

Can she carry the LPGA Tour to new heights in the way Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese, JuJu Watkins and Paige Buechers did so for women’s basketball? In an individual sport, what obligation does she have to make it happen with anything but the 14 clubs in her bag? And if she does, what does that look like?

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All these questions have been arriving on Korda’s doorstep lately — including that SportsCenter interview — and she’s stuck with a consistent answer throughout. “I feel like we just need a stage,” Korda said. “When we get a stage, we can show people the talent that everyone has out here.” A few minutes later, she was asked the question again, in a press conference this time. 

“I feel like we just need a stage,” she reiterated. “We need to be put on TV. I feel like when it’s tape delay or anything like that, that hurts our game. Women’s sports just needs a stage. If we have a stage we can show up and perform and show people what we’re all about.”

Discussing the stages that television carves out for women’s sports has always proven a chicken-and-egg conundrum. In order for network executives to guarantee enhanced TV time they want to know that more people will watch. In order for more people to watch, the sport needs to be guaranteed enhanced TV time. In golf, that has often left the LPGA not just in second place behind the PGA Tour, but sometimes fourth place behind the PGA Tour, the Champions Tour and the Korn Ferry Tour or DP World Tour. It was on full display a few weeks ago when Korda won for the fourth time in a row. She was competing in Las Vegas at Shadow Creek, a golf course worth viewing on its own, in the T-Mobile Match Play final against Leona Maguire, a Solheim Cup rival. But the match wasn’t available on Golf Channel when Korda and Maguire reached the 1st tee. It wasn’t viewable until well after it had started because the network was airing the (playoff) finish of the Korn Ferry Tour event. 

Though she didn’t say it directly, that clearly irks Korda. And rightfully so. It clearly irks her Solheim Cup captain, Stacy Lewis, too.

“I was disappointed to not see that entire match on Sunday on TV,” Lewis said Tuesday. “I just felt like you’re really probably looking at a twosome, three to three-and-a-half hours of golf, and I was really disappointed we didn’t get that entire match on TV.”

It’s a fair critique. Lewis highlighted that broadcast when asked how the LPGA can capitalize on Korda’s stellar play. 

“Those little things like that we have to push,” she continued. “We have to push our partners to say, how can we make this happen? It’s getting creative. Maybe it’s changing tee times, playing earlier, later, whatever it is. We got to figure out a way to be more visible.”

Lewis has been in Korda’s shoes before. Not literally as a four-straight-tournament winner but as the No. 1 player in the world, hailing from America, the No. 1 golf TV market in the world. There’s a certain pressure on that player to deliver, both on the golf course and off. Lewis knows that Korda is a bit of a reluctant star, but sees this as a moment where she needs to lean in. 

“I think Nelly does have a responsibility, and she probably doesn’t always want it, just knowing her,” Lewis said. “But it’s saying, yes. Continuing to play great golf, though, is No. 1. That’s what helps our tour the most is her playing great golf. That’s what I would tell her, is to remember that.”

This comes at an interesting time for the LPGA, which has established an in-house marketing team in recent months focused on pushing forward its greatest players. The return on investment is already proving quite valuable, LPGA commissioner Molly Marcoux Samaan said Tuesday, as the tour has seen roughly three times the social media engagement in recent weeks as this time two years ago. 

“Those are huge growth numbers in the overall engagement. We just need to keep investing in that. You need money, you need resources, you need people to keep having the world see these amazing athletes, and then the whole tipping point will occur.”

As for what else Korda might be able to do to urge women’s golf closer to that tipping point, Lewis was rather direct. 

“Well, I mean, every week she needs to be in [the media center] talking about it and how good she’s playing,” Lewis said. “I don’t know what that’s going to be, what that looks like for her. I’ve been in her shoes. I’ve been the No. 1 in the world and top American, and you’re asked to do a lot of things. But give the media a couple hours every week. That’s what she’s going to have to start doing.”

That plus the simple task of continuing to play historically great golf. The latter is much more difficult than the former, even if she’s made it look easy. Korda’s opening round begins at 2:10 p.m. ET Thursday and will be broadcast on Golf Channel and Peacock, as well as ESPN+’s featured groups coverage.

This week’s stage is set.

Sean Zak

Golf.com Editor

Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine and just finished a book about the summer he spent in St. Andrews.

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