Nelly Korda has made it a point not to let anyone step on her face this week in Australia. As defending champ, her face is everywhere, including the hotel floors.
“I was like, do not step on this, OK,” she joked during her pre-tournament press conference at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open at Royal Adelaide.
National Opens are always special, but this year’s Australian Open feels a bit different, as it’s the last event before an unexpected month-long break in the LPGA schedule. LPGA officials canceled the next three events in Asia due to concerns over the coronavirus.
For those who were settling into a long overseas swing, it’s now a matter of maximizing the moment.
For Korda, that means putting in a new set of irons. The top-ranked American got stronger over the offseason and struggled to control her ball-flight in the first two events.
“The shafts were too weak and they were bending on me,” she said.
Korda finished 10th at the season-opening Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions and tied for 28th at the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio. She planned to compete in both the Thailand and Singapore events. The younger Korda placed in the top 10 in both last year and was runner-up in Singapore in 2018.
It was that break-through victory at the Aussie Open, however, where Korda grew the family legacy Down Under, that felt like a dream. The first stretch of holes in particular helped shape the rest of her season.
“I started out with three bogeys last year and I just looked at my caddy and I was like, ‘You know what, I’m just going to not think about anything, about winning this tournament and just go out and play my golf game,’” said Korda. “From then on I played really well, so I think that’s kind of the mentality that I adapted throughout the whole year as well. It was funny, I learned that within three holes last year here and I kind of tried to take that mentality going throughout the whole year.”
While Korda’s face is plastered everywhere, there’s plenty of spotlight on the Aussies in the field, particularly Hannah Green, Minjee Lee and veteran Karrie Webb.
Lee’s younger brother, Min Woo, won last week’s Vic Open title. Minjee has twice won the Vic Open title, but has yet to put her name on the national open trophy. The 23-year-old is currently No. 8 in the world. Remarkably Su Oh, who is also 23 years old, is competing in her 12th Australian Open this week. She was 12 when she made her debut.
Webb is battling strep throat this week as she tees it up in her 24th consecutive Australian Open. She has won the event five times, with her last coming in 2014.
“I’ve always loved playing at home in Australia,” said Webb, “and I know I don’t have many Australian Opens left, so it’s just nice to be here.”
Green’s eyes were first opened to the life of professional golf when Karrie Webb brought her over for a behind-the-scenes look at the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open. Green had won the Karrie Webb Scholarship, which included a $10,000 prize and a trip to America. Webb got the idea from Greg Norman, who had done something similar for the overall winners of his junior golf foundation. The experience with Norman made a lasting impression on the future Hall of Famer.
Five years later, Green hoisted her own major championship trophy, winning the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship as a nervous Webb watched from outside the ropes.
“For that to happen and then Hannah to lead wire-to-wire and win was just an incredible experience,” said Webb. “Probably the worst job I’ve ever done of mentoring was I probably celebrated like I won, and probably wasn’t the best mentor that night, but I did show them how to celebrate the right way.”
Now Green, 23, is making her own mark on the next generation. This week she brought over two junior golfers, Alice and Rosie Tonts, from her home club in Perth for an inside-the-ropes experience. Green said the biggest change in her life since winning twice on the LPGA is the number of media requests she receives. Few things, however, keep a player grounded like giving back.
“I guess it’s kind of just making sure that I still stay the same type of person as I was last year and even my rookie year,” said Green. “It can definitely get to your head and you can definitely become a different person, and I hope that doesn’t happen.”
Golfweek. . Nelly Korda looks to add to family legacy Down Under. Available at: https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2020/02/12/lpga-isps-handa-womens-australian-open-nelly-korda/