Nelly Korda’s chance meeting with Ed Sheeran showed us something interesting

nelly korda signs autographs at the u.s. women's open

Nelly Korda is the most anticipated star at the U.S. Women's Open.

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LANCASTER, Pa. — Nelly Korda still remembers her first TV interview at the U.S. Women’s Open.

It was championship Sunday in 2013 at Sebonack Golf Club on Long Island, and Korda, then 14, had just sunk a long eagle putt to secure a donation for a local charity. After the round ended, a camera crew approached to ask about the eagle and Korda accepted. It was time to deliver the first line of her national championship career.

“My quote was, ‘you’ve got to risk it for the biscuit,'” she said Tuesday, a self-deprecating grin spread wide across her face. “That’s one of the main things I remember from my first U.S. Open.”

In most ways, Korda’s entire life has changed since that first interview. She enters this week’s U.S. Women’s Open as the undisputed top player in the world, winner of six of her last seven events, and the latest figurehead of a grow-the-game debate that is both interminable and unanswerable. Korda is no longer a wide-eyed teenager, she is an unabashed superstar and a dominant winner, the kind who is asked to deliver press conferences and interviews standard deviations more than her counterparts and whose fame can be quantified by the massive crowds watching during Tuesday practice rounds.

In some important ways, though, Korda remains every bit the person standing in front of cameras on eastern Long Island: quiet and self-assured, intense and introverted, staid and even a little goofy. The recipe changes — and based on results, improves — with time, but the ingredients stay the same.

If you’ve been around women’s golf, you know that Nelly’s celebrity is receiving more scrutiny than ever this week. The reason? The golf world has descended upon Lancaster Country Club for the biggest week of the year in women’s golf, and the unspoken hopes of nearly everyone in attendance are placed on Korda continuing her winning streak. Another victory this week would be momentous for the growth of the biggest star in women’s golf, perhaps momentous enough for Nelly to thrust the entire sport above her narrow shoulders, like a 7-iron-wielding Atlas.

That’s a massive burden, and for a player managing that burden against the counterweights of being one of the faces of a cultural moment in women’s sports and achieving her wildest childhood dreams, it’s borderline unbearable. Unless you’re the Nelly Korda who wandered around LCC on Wednesday morning, because that pales in comparison to what you’ve seen with your own eyes just a few weeks ago, when you were the wide-eyed fan on the red carpet at this year’s Met Gala.

“I think the people-watching for me. It was the ultimate people-watching fest,” Korda said with a grin on Tuesday. “Just standing in line with all these celebrities that you listen to, you watch on TV. I mean, Ed Sheeran walked past me.”

Korda couldn’t hide the excitement in her voice as she shared that last part, nor her laughter as she shared the most surprising development of the evening.

“For me, it was more shocking how tall I was compared to everyone,” she said. “I was in heels, too. We were in a tent, and there was no air conditioning and it was really hot and everyone was like sweating. And I was like, ‘oh, the air’s fine up here, guys.’

There was Nelly again. Self-deprecating, a little goofy, and deeply relatable. (And was that a dig at the 5-foot-8 Sheeran?) Her Met Gala review was brief and included no mention of golf but illustrated how she sees herself, as a big fish in the golf pond who’d journeyed into the celebrity ocean. Historic winning streak? Meh. She’s thoroughly unimpressed with her celebrity.

“It was my first time walking the red carpet, and I think it’s just going to be downhill from here,” she said Tuesday, again with a laugh.

These may not be good traits for delivering press-conference gold, and they might not regularly deliver the kind of clickable moments that regularly send other sports stars into the stratosphere. It’s understandable why a sport in a constant battle for relevance would want more of all that.

But in 2024 at least, they’ve proven pretty good traits for winning golf tournaments. And when it comes to lifting an entire sport, there may be no trait more important than wins.

Nelly isn’t Rory, and she might never be Tiger. But on the eve of the biggest tournament of the golf year, she is unquestionably, convincingly Nelly. She’s refusing to compromise. And she’s doubling down on her golf game. That might not sound like a risk, but it is.

The biscuit is only getting bigger.

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