BELLEAIR, FLORIDA | A year later, we’re right back where we started. And all seems right in the golf world.
For the second time in as many Novembers, Nelly Korda put on a show at the Pelican Golf Club, winning again at the Pelican Women’s Championship, once more over runner-up Lexi Thompson. She became the first player of the 2022 LPGA Tour season to successfully defend a title.
In both Pelican wins, Korda put on a complete exhibition. This time she hit 13 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens in the final round, needing only 28 putts to shoot 6-under 64 and end the week at 14-under 196, a shot clear of Thompson. In so doing, Korda went back to No. 1 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, a spot she first reached after her major title at last year’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
But there are plenty of differences this time around. For starters, unlike a year ago, neither Korda nor Thompson had a spasm in the home stretch. In the 2021 edition of this event, Korda held the lead with two holes to play and made a triple bogey on the 17th to lose her hold atop the leaderboard. Then Thompson, who needed only to two-putt the final green to win, missed a 4-footer and had to march back to the 18th tee for a four-way playoff with Korda, Lydia Ko and Sei Young Kim. Korda made a 22-footer for birdie on the first extra hole and, once more from 4 feet, Thompson missed to end it.
This time, both players had their A games. Thompson made two bogeys early in the back nine but recovered with back-to-back birdies immediately after. Then she made two extraordinary up-and-down pars on 17 and 18 to shoot 66. However, it was one more than she needed. Thompson, who won the LET’s Aramco event in New York earlier this year, is still searching for her next LPGA Tour win, a dry spell dating to June 2019.
The other difference this year was both players’ dispositions. A year ago, Thompson was a wreck after the Pelican loss. This year, she smiled, shook hands, answered questions and signed a slew of autographs after her round. She played well and got beat. It happens. As she said, “that’s golf.”
Korda was also a different person this time around. Last year, she was a newly minted major champion and an Olympic gold medalist, riding high and seemingly invincible. Then this past March, she underwent emergency surgery for a blood clot in her left arm, a dangerous situation that hammered home the fragility of life.
“For me, the uncertainty was the scariest part,” Korda said of that time earlier this year. “As a golfer I feel like my life is planned out. I know where I'm going next; I know what to do next, or you would hope to know. But just getting hit with something like this (blood clot) and just not knowing what to do or what my next step was (that was scary).”
“I did give myself a double fist pump by birdieing 17 today and not making a triple, so that one felt good.”
Then she immediately pivoted to the positive. “It feels amazing to get a win under my belt this year on the LPGA Tour,” she said. “It's definitely been a tough one this year. I'm very grateful that I'm out here competing, traveling, and doing what I love.”
She cried outside of scoring after this one. The only time anyone can remember that happening was when the American flag went up in Tokyo and Korda clapped her hand over her heart as the “Star-Spangled Banner” was played, a gold medal around her neck. It just goes to show what the realities of the human condition will conjure.
“I’ve always kind of been emotional after wins,” she said. “I don't know why. I'm not a crier. People say I'm a closet crier, I guess, but every single time I have won I think I've had a tear in my eye.”
Video evidence disputes that, but memory after what she’s been through can be both fuzzy and forgiven.
“I guess just like the stress throughout the day and wanting it so much as well plays a part in it,” Korda continued as a means of explaining her emotions. “I did give myself a double fist pump by birdieing 17 today and not making a triple, so that one felt good.”
It also feels good to have one of the most popular players in the women’s game back at the top of the rankings.
“I didn't even know that was kind of in play if I would've won,” she said. “Quite amazing, to be honest. I've never been a player that's kind of looked at the rankings too much. I've always said that good golf and enjoying myself out there and playing to the best of my ability kind of solves all that.
“But, yeah, I mean, last year I got to world No. 1 ranking after winning a major for the first time, and that was really special. Then, obviously, going through what I've been through this year and regaining that world No. 1 ranking is really special as well.”
Afterward, Korda signed a stack of pin flags and a dozen golf balls. With a black Sharpie, she penned a single word: Nelly.
“When I was growing up, I watched (players) sign stuff and heard kids complain that they couldn’t read the name,” she said. “They can definitely read mine.”
And just like that, a one-name superstar returned.
Top: Nelly Korda displays the power to repeat at the Pelican Women's Championship.