Monday Finish: Nelly Korda’s tough love, big changes at Augusta National
Welcome to the Monday Finish! This is where we’ll tally the scores for the week that was and tee you up for the week to come. This Monday that means a look back at the Women’s PGA, the longest playoff ever seen and some intriguing digging going on at Augusta National.
FIRST OFF THE TEE
Getting it in the house.
It’s easy, from the comfort of one’s couch, to say patently ridiculous things in the direction of your television. You can yell at a basketball player for missing a deep three with a hand in his face, or a baseball player for whiffing on a 99 mph fastball, or at a cornerback for getting beat deep by one of the most athletic people on the planet. You can also assume stuff like, “Ah, she’s got a five-shot lead. Even I could get it in the house from there.”
I’m not discouraging you from any of the above. That’s the entire beauty of watching sports, after all. And on the last point, maybe you’re right — maybe Nelly Korda did built up such a sizable lead at the KPMG Women’s PGA that even you, dear reader, could keep the ball in play and get it in the house. But with a major championship on the line, your legacy in the air, the title of world No. 1 up for grabs and a cool $675,000 available for first prize, it might not be as easy as it looks.
So when Korda hit her tee shot in the water at No. 15 on Sunday and her lead suddenly went from five shots to three, her mind started to race.
“Yeah, I really don’t like that hole. I’m so happy that’s over,” Korda said after the round. But in the moment, the tournament suddenly felt up for grabs, and she credited one important member of her team with keeping her under control: Her caddie.
“Jason [McDede] helped me calm down,” she said. “I hit it into the water on 15, and I was pretty upset there, but he pretty much punched me and was like, ‘Come on, bud, why are you so down?'”
From McDede’s side, the moment was years in the making.
“The back nine got a little bit interesting on 15,” he said. “I don’t think if we had been together so long that I could talk to her like I was able to, because she’s pretty tough. She’s a fierce competitor. But I think just having the groundwork of four years together just let me kind of say what I wanted to at that moment.”
So what did he tell her?
“Just to take a deep breath. We were three shots clear. We had a lot of golf left to play. When I first went to work for her, she told me, ‘Jason, I want to play one shot at a time.’ I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to tell you what you told me. You told me you want to play one shot at a time, we play one shot at a time. We just hit the fairway, let’s hit the next shot.'”
Korda heard him. “He’s like, ‘you’re thinking 40 minutes ahead.’ He’s like, ‘You told me when you hired me, we’re taking it shot by shot.’ It’s very simple and people are like, ‘Oh, that’s boring,’ but it’s really important when you’re out there.”
Korda hit the next shot. And then the next one after that. And at No. 17, a 148-yard par-3 over water, she was tempted to hit 9-iron but hit pitching wedge instead. Pin-high, safely aboard, leaving a short putt for birdie. (Yes, a pitching wedge, from 148.)
“She hit the best shot probably of maybe her life right there just to secure that,” McDede said with pride.”
Korda got it in the house, but the entire exchange was a reminder: A lot of work goes into building a steady ship.
Who won what?
Nelly Korda won the KPMG Women’s PGA, the title of world No. 1 and more generally the entire weekend. She became the first American major champ on the women’s side since 2018. She became the first American World No. 1 since 2014.
“Is this week even real?” she asked reporters post-round. We’re pretty sure it is.
Harris English outlasted Kramer Hickok on the eighth playoff hole to win the Travelers Championship. If you were sitting an English to-win ticket at about 33-1, you must have been sweating for the last three hours of the tournament; I can’t remember such a wild combination of lip-outs, near-misses and clutch makes down the stretch. English earned a proper rest Sunday night.
Viktor Hovland made just his second professional start on European soil just a week after a strange sand-in-the-eye WD at the U.S. Open and made the transition look effortless; he won the BMW International in Munich with two birdies in the last three holes.
Meghan MacLaren, a particularly insightful golfer-slash-blogger, won on the Symetra Tour, which is reassuring because it’s less likely she’ll take my job soon if she’s preoccupied playing the LPGA Tour. You could hear her post-win gratitude loud and clear in this thank-you speech:
Chad Ramey won inaugural Live and Work in Maine Open on the Korn Ferry Tour. Shoutout to Maine, perhaps the country’s most underrated state. And to Chad, too.
And Steve Stricker won the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship at Firestone, torching the field — and his good pal Jerry Kelly — en route to a six-shot win. On the heels of a Padraig Harrington resurgence at the PGA, it’s been a particularly strong stretch for Ryder Cup captain golf.
Who came up just short?
It’s hard to imagine coming any closer to victory than Kramer Hickok did here:
So he truly defines this category this week. Other near-missers included Bubba Watson, who was in the lead in Connecticut before playing his final five holes in six over par.
“I’m glad that I was there, had the opportunity,” Watson said. “You know, I would love to do it again next week, throw up on myself again. It would it be great.”
Lizette Salas, who took Korda to the back nine on Sunday but came up just short and did well to convey a complex, powerful whirlwind of emotions post-round:
“I was considering retirement,” she said. “I didn’t think I could get out of that deep hole, and really my team stepped it up.
“I think I’m back. It’s just a beautiful thing, and I don’t mean to cry because I’m just really happy right now.
“I think a lot of us take our mental health for granted, and me coming from a Hispanic culture, it’s very hard to talk about it. But I just hope that regardless if you’re a pro athlete or a student of any color, shape or form, mental health is important, and you’re not alone. That was the scariest part for me is I felt like I was alone, and now hearing the chants and everyone pulling for me, it was just a magical week, and I’m just really happy.”
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
What’s going on at Augusta?
The offseason intrigue from golf’s most famous course continues. The powers-that-be are always up to something once Augusta National’s playing season wraps up each May, but this offseason there seems to be much more something than usual. The intrepid adventurers at Eureka Earth have been snapping photos that give a little window into the dirt, trees and buildings being moved around, so let’s buzz through a few of their finds:
1. There seems to be some serious tree-clearing going on down the right side of No. 11. Is this in process? In final form? Will they plant a forest just to throw us off the scent? This will prove particularly intriguing:
2. No. 13 still isn’t lengthened…yet. Or is it? There’s certainly room available to move the tee further back and create a chute through the trees, beefing up that tee shot. And is the dirt in that clearing ripe for new tee construction? Or is it just dirt? Muse amongst yourselves.
One point of certainty: That new access road behind the tee (for security, logistics and emergencies, reportedly) looks awfully fresh.
Here’s an actual look at some of the good folks behind the scenes making this magic happen:
3. There appears to be a massive new member’s clubhouse under construction in the top left corner of this photo:
Which you can see even more clearly here:
4. Here’s a reminder that they absolutely tear this place apart every offseason before they carefully stitch it back to green perfection. Also, there’s plenty of musing that this could indicate a potential new back tee at No. 15 — although that would mean some air traffic control headaches at the crossroads here. There’s a lot of traffic at the intersection of 10, 11, 14 and 15.
Now that I’ve overwhelmed you with tricky angles and rampant speculation, what’s the takeaway? Specifically, that we have our eye on some potential changes to the course. More generally, the takeaway is that Augusta National’s constant reinvention is almost impossible to imagine and that the greenskeepers behind it all are absolute miracle-workers. I’m guessing there won’t be a single seam visible when we see the entire thing sewn back together next year.
One more photo for the road:
NEWS FROM SEATTLE
Monday Finish HQ.
It’s hot. Like, extremely hot. Seattle hit 100 on Sunday and is going to blow past that on Monday, which is much too hot for a city where residents don’t have much air conditioning. The golf courses are packed. The beaches are even more packed. Seattle summer is the dream, as long as the temperature stays safely in the double digits.
Lucky me, though: I’ve escaped to Hawaii for a family reunion, where there is some air conditioning but also a giant accessible ocean. It’s my first time in the Aloha State and I’m instantly hooked. Better yet, after I press send on this column I’ll jump in the ocean and then warm up for a round of golf in what will be my 50th and final golfing state. (I got a head start a few years back.) More on that to come.
Three things to watch this week.
1. Bryson in Detroit.
After taking it to Detroit Golf Club last year (Remember “Sorry, Mr. Ross? from a year ago?) Bryson DeChambeau is back and ready to pummel his way through the Midwest yet again. There’s no reason to believe he won’t be in the mix come Sunday at the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
2. Jin Young Ko in Texas.
The longtime world No. 1 was unseated by Korda on Sunday, but now Jin Young Ko will be back in action at the Volunteers of America Classic in The Colony, Tex. come Thursday. Korda’s lead in the Rolex Rankings is actually pretty sizable, at 9.92 to Ko’s 8.79. But will losing the title light a fire under her?
3. This disc golf shot.
You’ve likely already seen it, which is a testament to the insanity of this shot. If you haven’t seen it until now and you feel like you’re walking into an alternate reality where disc golf, as it turns out, has a massive untapped following, I would like to say this: Apparently you’re correct. Time to get in before the disc golf bandwagon fills up for good.
We’ll see you next week!