Nelly Korda is fighting her swing — but she still has a chance to win a major
THE WOODLANDS, Texas — Nelly Korda winces as she watches her tee ball come off the clubface. The marshals motion left as her caddie, Jason McDede, yells “Fore!” from the 13th tee box with the ball sailing toward the trees left. Fans sprint to the ball after it clatters around in the branches and settles on the cart path.
Korda takes her time as she strolls down the tight-cut Bermuda fairway. She stares ahead with an emotionless glare. Like a thoroughbred with blinders on, everything but the next stride is out of view. Her focus is appropriate for the occasion — it’s a major championship Saturday, and each stroke can be the difference between a good-job pat-on-the-back and immortality.
As she approaches the ball, a volunteer barks at the assembled crowd to take two steps back. She ducks under the rope line as McDede jogs ahead to assess the situation. Korda has a window beneath the canopy of the limbs above. She can breathe a sigh of relief.
The duo goes through the motions of dropping from the cart path and talk about the shot. If Korda can punch her ball through the trouble, she’ll still have a wedge into the green at the par 5. After a couple rehearsal swings, she does just that, keeping the ball beneath the obstacles and trickling her ball down the fairway.
The steely glare remains as the crowd praises Korda. She gives a sheepish wave and walks back to the fairway. Her new focus is on making birdie — crisis averted.
A few minutes later, the crowd roars as her birdie putt finds the bottom of the cup. Despite a suboptimal strike off the tee, she adds another birdie — her second of the day. She’s not swinging her best, but still finds herself on the first page of the leaderboard.
She’s right in the conversation to win another major and reclaim world No. 1; just two shots back of Allisen Corpuz and Angel Yin heading into the final round at the Chevron Championship with 18 holes to play.
Korda has a swing that most would kill for — and that includes other pro golfers.
“Does she hit a bad shot?” Kevin Kisner asked after playing with Korda last winter. “I have no idea, I’ve never seen her hit a bad shot.”
It’s a common refrain among those that see her artistry in person. With a move that pretty, it’s hard to imagine Korda ever hitting the ball off line. But, like every other golfer, the top-ranked American has moments where she fights her swing just like the rest of the golfing population. And lately, that fight has become relentless.
Despite having one of the most-admired moves in the game, in 2023, Korda has not felt completely comfortable with her swing. The results are still there, with four top 10s in five starts, but that’s not necessarily a result of her ball-striking prowess.
“Sometimes [my swing is] close, sometimes [it’s] very far,” Korda said. “I don’t know. It’s getting there. I mean, it’s a process. It looks good, but then there’s some shots that flair out, and then I hit them out right and hit them out left.”
To the untrained eye, Korda’s swing is the same as it ever was — fluid, lengthy, powerful. But looks are not everything, and her swing is far from perfect.
The flaws in Korda’s move start right at the beginning of the swing — the takeaway. Lately, she’s been rolling her hands to the inside as she takes the club back, and her hands get too deep behind her. This throws off the position at the top of her swing, and from there down, she’s fighting to get back into the correct spots.
“At the top it’s not in the position it needs to be, so I’m kind of stuck,” Korda said. “Then it can go either right or left, it depends on if I flip it or not, what I do.”
When her timing is on, she can still make it work. But when she doesn’t time the hands correctly at impact, a two-way miss comes into play.
Korda has been working with GOLF Top 100 Teacher Jamie Mulligan for the last two seasons, but in 2023, she’s not seen the swing guru as much. With Mulligan’s busy schedule tending to other players on his roster — Patrick Cantlay among them — his work with Korda has been limited. It’s forced Korda to find other remedies to her swing woes. Sometimes, she relies on the eyes of her father, Petr, or her caddies. Other times, she goes at it alone.
“I’ve been playing this game for long enough that I kind of know what I need to do,” Korda said. “So I went back home and drilled it and then made sure that I was in playing mode towards the end of the week coming into this week.”
So far, the plan has worked. Her touch around the greens all season — as well as at Carlton Woods this week — has allowed her to stay near the top of the leaderboard. But the threat of the “big miss” is ever present.
“I think it’s positive and negative that I’m playing well,” Korda said. “I don’t think that I’ve had my best stuff yet, so hopefully I can continue working on my game.”
Korda walks out of the scoring area next to Carlton Woods’ 18th green and stares out across the water lining the hole. She sits down on the steps near the interview area, takes a deep breath and pulls out her phone. After five hours of battling her swing in the punishing Texas humidity, she can finally begin to unwind.
Her score flashes on the scoreboard with a two-under 70. She still doesn’t have her best stuff, but the tournament is well within her reach. If she can muster a vintage Nelly Korda performance on Sunday, she’ll leave Houston with major title No. 2.
“It’s not always smooth sailing,” she tells the media. “I feel like especially at a major championship, you’re trying to get into contention and you’re trying to win, so I’m going to give it my all.”
Korda’s swing might not be where she wants it, but she’ll go to sleep Saturday night with a chance to take the title on Sunday.