News & Opinion

There’s more to come on LPGA for Nelly Korda

2020 ANA Inspiration final round Jessica Korda and Mirim Lee
Nelly Korda (left) congratulates winner Mirim Lee on Sunday at the ANA Inspiration in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

Playoff loss to South Korea’s Mirim Lee at ANA Inspiration serves as mere, well, inspiration for rising American star

Nelly Korda didn’t win the ANA Inspiration, but she signaled to the golfing world that when it comes to American golf, it could be her time for years to come.

Korda lost in a playoff Sunday at the second major of the LPGA Tour’s 2020 season to Mirim Lee, but she flexed her muscles on the biggest stage in the sport for 99 percent of the week.

A couple of more opportunities, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Korda begin a run of golf not seen by an American in the women’s game for a number of years. Sure, there have been some solid results by Stacy Lewis, a former world No. 1, and others such as Korda’s older sister, Jessica, Lexi Thompson, Brittany Lincicome and, more recently, Danielle Kang.

But with the younger Korda, American golf fans might be on the verge of an all-time effort.

She has it all. She knows it.

“I'm taking positives from this week,” said Korda, who shot 3-under 69 on Sunday for a 15-under 273 total to tie South Korea’s Lee and Canadian Brooke Henderson after 72 holes (scores). “My game is trending upward, and it's good.”

All day at Mission Hills Country Club’s Dinah Shore Tournament Course, it seemed to be a match-play scenario between Korda and Henderson.

Henderson, already the winningest Canadian golfer on the LPGA or PGA Tour, was trying to win her second major and her 10th LPGA Tour title.

“Mirim played great today, and so did Nelly,” Henderson said. “It was fun.”

Korda was 3 under through nine holes to Henderson’s 2 under. Korda bogeyed two of her first three holes on the back nine and let Henderson back into it. When Henderson made double bogey on the par-4 13th and Korda birdied the hole, it seemed inevitable that Korda would close out the deal.

However, Korda failed to make a birdie on any of her final four holes. Chalk it up to nerves at trying to win a first major title, perhaps.

“I played solid today,” Korda said. “Had a couple bogeys kind of starting on the back nine, but I kept my calm, didn't hit a really good shot on 18 off the tee both times, so I kind of … that's what kind of got me in trouble there.”

Mirim Lee winner 2020 ANA Inspiration
Mirim Lee beams Sunday at the ANA Inspiration after winning her 1st major championship and her 4th title on the LPGA.

Lee chipped in three times Sunday, including from behind the 18th green for eagle to post 15 under. She made birdie on the first playoff hole to top Korda and Henderson for her first major title and fourth LPGA victory, her first since 2017.

“I can't really believe it right now,” she said through an interpreter. “To be honest, I feel like I must be a little crazy for winning and for having won this, and I think I'll be able to feel it once I meet my family and reunite with them. To be honest, of the four rounds, today I struggled the most, but I think I had a bit of luck that helped me.”

It seemed, on 18, as if Korda got iced. Nearly 30 minutes went by between when she knocked in her par on 17 and when her par putt fell on 18.

Henderson awaited a ruling from officials after her ball came to rest underneath the controversial blue wall that had been erected behind the 18th green while Katherine Kirk, the third member of their group, was up against a boundary line around Poppie’s Pond and also talking with officials.

Korda had no idea that Lee chipped in for an eagle to match her 15-under score until Korda saw the leaderboard by the green. Lee knocked her approach on the par 5 closer up against the aforementioned blue wall and got a drop because of it. Her chip-in came after the drop.

“It's not over until you make that last putt on 18, and anything can happen, and unfortunately it went the other way, but I'll take all the experience I can get,” said Korda, a three-time winner on the LPGA Tour.

This was Korda’s fourth top-10 in a major. Coupled with her T-14 at the Women’s British Open last month, she should be on the short list of favorites to win the Women’s PGA next month at Aronimink Golf Club near Philadelphia.

Korda, at 22, and Henderson, who turned 23 on Thursday, provided all of the drama Sunday at the ANA Inspiration until Lee swooped in late and took the trophy and the victor’s leap into Poppie’s Pond.

But moving forward, don’t be surprised to see Korda make a bigger leap – right to the top of the world.

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