CARLSBAD, CALIFORNIA | What’s the over/under on when the LPGA will have an all-Korda final pairing on a Sunday? And exactly how cool will that be for golf fans? The thinking here is that the dream duo for every marketing person at both the LPGA and NBC/Golf Channel could come as early as next week’s ANA Inspiration. This sister act might just comprise the two best Americans in women’s golf.
After last week’s Bank of Hope Founders Cup, where Jessica, 26, and her little sister tied for second, 20-year-old Nelly was the top Yank in the Rolex Rankings at No. 6, less than a point behind No. 3 Minjee Lee. Jessica, who was making her first start of the year because of a forearm injury, is No. 12, just 0.50 points behind Nelly. Both have the kind of games that play well at Mission Hills, site of the ANA Inspiration, where long hitters can reach all four par-5s in two and where they have six more wedge opportunities than most of the field.
Both of the towering blondes skipped this week’s Kia Classic to get ready for the ANA. If the Founders Cup is any indication, there is not much tinkering to do. Nelly, quite simply, is on a tear. In her last 10 tournaments, dating back to the finish of 2018, she has eight top-10s, including two victories, two runner-up finishes and a third. Jessica, who has five LPGA victories, seems to be healthy and motivated by her sister’s success.
This year, Nelly is averaging more than 271 yards off the tee, is first in greens hit in regulation and No. 13 in putts per GIR. Jessica hasn’t played enough to have meaningful stats, but in 2018 she was No. 9 in driving distance, No. 9 in GIR and No. 4 in putts per GIR. Both of them have very complete games and the right combination of fire and focus to handle final-round pressure.
“It’s pretty amazing that this young player, Nelly Korda, leads the money list,” Hall of Famer and longtime TV analyst Judy Rankin said. “I mean, she’s already won almost a half a million dollars this year. She has played unbelievably well. She’s been in the top 10 in every start this year. Now by any measure that is some kind of golf. And she’s been playing all over the world. So I am pretty taken with what Nelly Korda is doing.”
So are we looking at a potential Venus and Serena Williams scenario in golf, with two of the best players in the game being sisters?
“I think we could be seeing that, definitely,” Rankin said. “The physical nature of their golf swings are very similar. But I don’t know what it is I’ve always seen in Nelly, but there’s something – and gosh, I can’t even think of a bad thing to say about Jessica – but I’ve always seen something a shade more serious in Nelly. Jessica might be loving life a fraction more.
“You also can’t really make a judgment because I believe, in the very best sort of way, that they are driving each other. So you really can’t say who will be better in the end. But I know that it is the type of competition where they push each other but where one wishes the best for the other, too.”
And both have proven they can handle the Mission Hills layout and the major championship atmosphere. Last year, Jessica finished T4 at the ANA Inspiration as she recorded top-eight finishes in three of the five majors. Nelly was T13 at the ANA while also finishing T10 in the U.S. Women’s Open.
The case can be made that the Kordas are already the most successful sisters in the history of the LPGA. They join the Sorenstams and their current rivals – the Jutanugarns – as the only siblings with LPGA victories and the Kordas are alone in having both sisters with multiple victories.
“But with the Kordas, they are so equally blessed both talent-wise and with mental ability that you can see them jockeying for position throughout their careers.” – Karen Stupples, Golf Channel commentator
“Technically, they are both so sound,” said Karen Stupples, who walked with Jessica in her role as a Golf Channel commentator last week in Phoenix. “Mentally, they are strong as well because they have such a good grounding from their father, Petr. He instilled that strength in them, and I can really see them jostling for position because their talent is so equal.
“It’s not like looking at Ariya and Moriya (Jutanugarn). And this is nothing against Moriya but Ariya just has more physical ability. But with the Kordas, they are so equally blessed both talent-wise and with mental ability that you can see them jockeying for position throughout their careers.”
In total wins, the Kordas trail the Sorenstams – Annika had 72 and Charlotta one – and the Jutanugarns – Ariya has 10 and Moriya one – but Jessica has five wins and Nelly has two.
Among the prominent sisters who did not complete the Sibling Slam are Marlene Bauer Hagge, who had 26 wins, and Alice Bauer; Donna Caponi (24) and Janet Caponi LePera; Danielle (seven) and Dina Ammaccapane; and Mardi (1) and Karen Lunn. Aree and Naree Song as well as Numa and Russy Gulyanamitta were winless.
If you think the Kordas aren’t paying attention to each other, think again. “I have a friend out here and right as I got on the tee on 10 she was like, ‘Oh, my God! Jess made an eagle.’ I was like, ‘Oh, my God! Where did she make the eagle?’ I don’t know. My dad texted me,” Nelly said after the Founders Cup, punctuating her stream of words with laughter. “I saw her at 21 (under par) and I’m like, Oh, damn. Need to catch up a little.”
And Jessica was paying attention as well. “It’s awesome,” she said about Nelly’s play. “She’s one up on me this year so I got to put my butt in gear. It’s been so great watching her. Just not being able to play, to be out here, just seeing how she carries herself and how she represents herself has been fantastic. It was great for me to watch it, but it sucked not to be out there.”
Having two sisters play so well comes at a great time for the LPGA, which has just launched its Drive On marketing campaign to motivate young girls to take up the game. And the Kordas are completely on board.
“I think the LPGA hit that right on the head,” Jessica said about the campaign’s much-watched debut video. “Gave us goosebumps at the player meeting when we saw it. It was absolutely fantastic. I love the way they’re moving the tour. I was out here in 2011 when we only had like 24 events. I saw where the tour could have gone and I’m just seeing where (commissioner) Mike Whan and team has been putting it. It’s been awesome.”
Awesome is also the right word to describe the play of Nelly, as is inspiring the best word to describe the latest return of Jessica from injury. The sisters seem destined for golf’s version of a Serena and Venus Williams-type showdown in tennis. Won’t that be fun to watch?
Nelly Korda, left, and Jessica Korda, are just 0.50 apart in the Rolex Rankings. Photo: Darren Carroll, Copyright USGA
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