Nelly Korda’s rollercoaster year ended with promise for 2023
Remember when we thought a pandemic season two years ago was crazy? Man, 2022 had it all. The return of Tiger Woods, the founding of a controversial golf league, the disappearance (and reappearance) of one of golf’s most beloved figures and so much more. But now let’s take a breath. Here, we’ll look back (and look ahead) at the 10 most memorable moments of 2022.
No. 10: Nelly Korda’s rollercoaster year ended with promise for 2023
When Lexi Thompson’s birdie chip skittered past the cup on the 72nd hole at the Pelican Women’s Championship last month, Nelly Korda’s win was official.
Korda exited the scoring tent and accepted congratulations from the throngs assembled. She hugged fellow LPGA pros Meghan Khang and Ally Ewing. She embraced her caddie, Jason McDede, who’s been on the bag since 2018. Then she turned to her father, Petr.
A Golf Channel crew quickly swooped in for the winner’s interview. How did it feel to finally get a win in 2022?
“Super nice, yeah. Has a nice ring to it,” Korda said. “It’s been really nice to see my parents, but …”
Her voiced trailed off as tears welled in her eyes.
“It’s been tough.”
In 2021, Korda made golf look easy. She won five times. She claimed a major title at Atlanta Athletic Club. She brought home a gold medal from Tokyo. She ascended to world No. 1. It was the year of Nelly, and she looked poised to continue her dominance in 2022. But as is so often the case in golf, humbling experiences lay ahead.
Her 2022 campaign started with promise. Appearing in the Tournament of Champions, Korda got out to a hot start through 54 holes. Rounds of 68, 66 and 69 left her with a one-shot lead heading into Sunday, and another victory appeared imminent.
It wasn’t quite so simple. A Sunday 75 dropped her to a disappointing tie for fourth as Korda watched Danielle Kang return to the winner’s circle for the first time since 2020.
“I struck it pretty bad all week but my short game saved me, so that was nice,” Korda said. “It’s my first tournament this year and I finished in the top five, so at least I can take that away.”
Korda played the following two weeks, but couldn’t quite put it all together. She notched back-to-back top-20 finishes, but she was far from the dominant form of yesteryear.
Soon enough though, her form on the course would be far from her biggest concern.
In early March, Korda was diagnosed with a blood clot. She announced her ailment in a brief post on social media, and her team was tight-lipped about the ordeal. (Later reports indicated the ailment was life-threatening.) All the general public knew was that women’s golf’s biggest American superstar would be sidelined indefinitely.
Without Korda, the LPGA season marched on. Jennifer Kupcho won the first Nelly-less major of the year, and Jin Young Ko retook the top spot in the Rolex Rankings. Atthaya Thitikul burst onto the scene, and Minjee Lee made her claim as the best player in the game. Women’s golf was in good hands, but without Korda, there was something missing.
That key ingredient returned during a sweltering week in the Carolina Sand Hills. Three months after surgery for her blood clot, Korda returned to professional golf on the grandest of stages — the U.S. Women’s Open.
“I’m trying not to think about it too much,” she said. “I’m just more grateful that I’m out here.”
Korda’s return didn’t have storybook ending many had hoped for, but in any measurable capacity, she exceeded expectations. Despite three months away, she arrived at Pine Needles and fired three rounds under par. She made 15 birdies over 72 holes. And she registered her first career top 10 in the championship.
“In all, I’m pretty happy with how this week went,” she said. “Had no expectations. I actually had my best finish in the [U.S] Women’s Open, so maybe I should just keep that going.”
Her momentum carried into the following tournament as Korda posted a T2 finish at the Meijer LPGA Classic. But while her play was solid, it was a far cry from her dominance of 2022. Coming off a serious injury was plenty reason enough, but when you’re the face of women’s golf in America, the microscope is even more intense.
Korda had not won on the LPGA Tour since November 2021, and others in the game were staking their claim as the top dog. Names like Thitikul and Lee dominated the top of leaderboards, and former world No. 1 Lydia Ko made her own charge back into relevance. Golf is a “what have you done for me lately” world, and Korda’s dominant 2021 began to feel like a distant memory.
Three more majors came and went over the summer, and Korda couldn’t break through in any of them. In Gee Chun held on for victory at Congressional; Brooke Henderson broke through at Evian; Ashleigh Buhai marveled at Muirfield.
The summer of 2022 proved not to be the sequel to the Summer of Nelly, but the fall showed signs of promise. She won on the Ladies European Tour in Spain, and tied for second in Canada, but without a marquee win on her resume in 2022, her Rolex Ranking dropped. In October, her world rank fell to fourth — her lowest since June 2021.
“I would recap it [as] a rollercoaster,” Korda said ahead of the Pelican Women’s Championship. “Definitely a learning year.”
The Pelican represented one of her final shots at glory in 2022. Although her play suffered after her injury, a win would forgive it all. Claiming a win — on her home course in front of friends and family — would allow her to retake the No. 1 spot in the Rolex Ranking.
Korda was solid through two rounds at the 54-hole Pelican Championship. She kept herself in the hunt with back-to-back 66s, and in the final round, she found herself in a duel with women’s golf’s other American superstar, Lexi Thompson.
Thompson rattled off four straight birdies on the opening nine in the final round, but Korda kept pace with three birdies of her own. Korda took the lead on the back nine with birdies at 10 and 13, but Thompson would not go away, carding back-to-back circles at 13 and 14. Korda made birdies at 16 and 17, and as she played the final hole ahead of Thompson, the margin was two.
With water snaking along the left side of the challenging finisher, any number of scenarios was in play — from heartbreak to heartache. But with a smashed drive up the right side, the calculus became simple — post no worse than bogey and put the pressure on Thompson.
An airmailed approach and failed up-and-down cut the lead to one, but when Thompson could not hit the green, a miracle was needed to force extra holes. And although her chip looked as though it could find the bottom of the cup, her birdie bid settled a foot past the hole.
Korda was once again on top of the golf world.
“Going through what I’ve been through this year and regaining that world No. 1 ranking is really special,” Korda said. “It’s definitely been a tough one this year. I’m very grateful.”
It might’ve been a tough year, but the end result was the same. The context of it all was far different, though.
The trials on and off the course were far from what any of us could’ve imagined. From hospitals and layoffs, to grinding to regain that old form, 2022 was not the year Korda envisioned. But like all great players, the resilience is what defined her year.
It’s setting up to be a year of redemption in 2023. And if Korda’s perseverance this season is any indication, we’re in for one hell of a ride.