JOHNS CREEK, GEORGIA | This was the best of the bunch and not just because of the golf. Nelly Korda had two eagles in her final-round 68 on Sunday, one a near-albatross as she nailed a 7-wood on the par-5 fifth hole about 8 inches short of the hole.
But those shots, as stellar as they were, didn’t make this KPMG Women’s PGA Championship the best major of the year. It was the fact that the normally stoic Korda, who finished 19-under for the week and won by three, also will ascend to No. 1 in the world. And she broke down in tears as her mother and sister greeted her on the final green.
Korda has been the hottest player of the year. The rankings just caught up. This was her third victory of the 2021 season and her second in a row. The week before traveling to Atlanta, she fired a ridiculous 25-under par in Michigan to win the Meijer LPGA Classic.
On Sunday she joined a distinguished list of champions from big events hosted by Atlanta Athletic Club. The AAC, at its current location north of the state’s capital city since 1967, has, as of this week, hosted seven major tournaments.
It was Friday – a unicorn of a June day in Georgia when the humidity was low and the sun stood high – when I realized I’ve been present for each and every one.
In 1976, I sat in the bleachers – hot, metal, uncovered, straight-from-the-local-rodeo benches that jangled like tambourines with every movement – when Jerry Pate hit his now famous 5-iron from the right rough on No. 18 to beat Al Geiberger and Tom Weiskopf in the U.S. Open.
That was the one and only U.S. Open held at the club, although in 1990 the U.S. Women’s Open came to the Riverside Course at AAC, thus named because of its proximity to the Chattahoochee River. All the other professional majors have been played on the Highlands Course, which is only a few feet higher than Riverside. But every inch matters when “the Mighty Hooch” climbs from its banks. Betsy King came from 11 shots back at one point on Sunday to beat Patty Sheehan in that one. The club has a wall in the clubhouse devoted to King’s win.
I ventured out to the Athletic Club for Gunn Yang’s U.S. Amateur victory in 2014. That week I spent some time with Steve Melnyk (his son made the field) and watched all the matches of then-Georgia Tech star Ollie Schniederjans. Before that, I’d made three more major visits to AAC, the first in 1981 for the PGA Championship when local legend Larry Nelson captured the first of his three major championships.
Then there was the PGA in 2001, the year David Toms laid up from the right rough on 18 on Sunday and got up and down to snatch the title away from the then major-less Phil Mickelson. And in 2011, I marveled at the dad bod and placid demeanor of Jason Dufner, who led the PGA Championship by five shots on the 15th tee and frittered it away, losing in a playoff to Keegan Bradley.
When the words “Nelly Korda, major champion and No. 1 player in the world” were first uttered, she broke into a big smile and said, “That sounds amazing, I’m not going to lie.”
But none of those championships had what the best women in the world gave us at the KPMG Women’s PGA. Korda put on a show from start to finish, tying a course record with 63 on Friday and setting a new women’s major championship record for most consecutive birdies, closing with six on Friday and opening her Saturday round with two more.
She entered the final round tied with a gutsy Lizette Salas but pulled away with length and grit and a deft putting touch. When the words “Nelly Korda, major champion and No. 1 player in the world” were first uttered, she broke into a big smile and said, “That sounds amazing, I’m not going to lie.”
But there’s even more of a reason for this one to stand out. The Kordas have a right to be in the conversation as one of sports’ greatest athletic families. To give some perspective, Jessica (five years older than Nelly) locked up her spot on the U.S. Olympic team when she birdied her final hole to finish T15, two hours before Nelly parred 18 to win by three. Brother Sebastian is in the draw at Wimbledon starting on Monday. Their mother, Regina Rajchrtová, played tennis in the Olympics for Czechoslovakia and was ranked 26th in the world. And their father Petr reached No. 2 in the world and won the 1998 French Open.
Now they have a world No. 1.
And she is the first American woman to sit on top of the world since Stacy Lewis in 2016.
At her press conference afterward, a normally stoic Korda broke down in tears when discussing her family.
“Honestly, you don’t realize (all that our family has accomplished) until someone really talks about it,” Nelly said. “Because we’re always so in the zone. We’re always just striving to achieve more. For our family just to back each other through every situation – Seb is top 50 in the world (in men’s professional tennis). Man, a year ago he was outside (the top) 200. He’s playing at Wimbledon this year. It’s so surreal. And Jess has won this year.
“It doesn’t really sink in until someone says it. Then you’re like, ‘Oh, wow, yeah, that’s actually really cool.’ ”
This win will sink on for those who know their major championships. Yeah, it’s really cool. And for those who have been to the ones hosted at Atlanta Athletic Club, Korda and this KPMG Women’s PGA Championship will vault to the top of the list.
Top: Nelly Korda is doused with champagne after her first major championship victory.