She’s not Tiger. No one is Tiger Woods. She’s not even Jack, although the way she plays – long, high ball flight, ridiculous talent, steel-trap mind and the instincts of a killer – more closely resemble the Nicklaus of old than any other player in recent memory. Nelly Korda is not Annika, either, who reminded us last week at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open why she is always on a short list of the greatest of all time.
At this stage, the younger Korda sister is not even Lorena Ochoa, who stepped into the top spot in the women’s game when Annika Sörenstam exited. So, let’s not get ahead of ourselves and ascribe hall-of-fame greatness to a player with six wins and one major championship on her résumé. Yes, Nelly Korda is the best player in the women’s game at the moment. Time will tell if that lasts.
What can be said at the moment – what is true and unassailable – is that Nelly is a treat to watch, especially this week in an Olympic Games that desperately needs a savior.
According to multiple market sources, NBC viewership in this Olympics is down between 30 and 45 percent from the 2016 Games. MarketWatch reports that the network is already in discussions with advertisers on something called “make goods,” industry jargon for additional free ads given when promised numbers don’t pan out.
This doesn’t appear to be a temporary problem, either. Coverage of the opening ceremonies was down 43 percent. But the tent-pole events that normally garner the biggest audiences – women’s gymnastics, swimming and diving and track and field – are also falling well below expectations.
Some of this is driven by time zones. If your favorite track event is taking place at 2 p.m. in Tokyo, that’s 1 a.m. in New York, midnight in Chicago and 6 a.m. in London. By the time American or European fans are ready to consume Olympic content, they know who won and have probably seen the highlights.
Of course, time differences are always an issue in a global event. But this isn’t 1988 anymore. When something happened in the Games in Seoul, South Korea, you had to wait until primetime in your area to see it on NBC. Now, between texts, social media and all the other ways people consume information, you almost can’t avoid it. The number of people under 50 who tune into network television to see a sporting event that happened eight hours earlier is too small to measure.
Suddenly, the Olympics has its star, at least for an American audience that has largely tuned out.
Having no fans on site also plays a role. There is a dearth of energy, not from the athletes but in the presentation. Clips of fans back home at Union Catholic High School or in some hotel conference room in Orlando, Florida, just don’t have the same effect.
Finally, Olympic athletes aren’t as recognizable as they once were. Before Rio in 2016, everyone already knew Michael Phelps. And Usain Bolt was one of the most famous people on the planet. Going back to Olympics of long ago, sports fans everywhere knew George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard, the Spinks brothers – Michael and Leon – and Evander Holyfield, boxing greats who won gold for the United States before becoming world champion professionals. Their gold-medal bouts were appointment viewing. Has anyone seen one second of Olympic boxing this year? Can you name a single boxer? Wrestler? Decathlete?
But even the novice fan has probably heard of the Kordas. Their family story – parents who were world-class tennis players, younger brother who is a ATP winner and ranked in the top 50 in the world, and the most successful sibling duo in LPGA Tour history – has been everywhere. When Nelly won the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in June to ascend to the top of the Rolex Rankings and sister Jessica qualified as the fourth member of the U.S. Olympic golf team, that news transcended our game.
They even had a four-minute segment – an eternity of network time – on NBC’s Today Show.
Now, we have Nelly shooting 62 on Thursday, a round that might have been a 59 had she not gotten wobbly in 111-degree heat index and made double bogey on the final hole.
“I’ve had a lot of good rounds this year,” Nelly said after the 62, which opened up a four-shot lead through 36 holes. “I’ve been playing really well. I’ve been striking it really well. I think I’ve had a couple of 9-unders, so (the 62) was definitely one of the best, yes. But golf humbles you. I got a nice little double on 18.”
Suddenly, the Olympics has its star, at least for an American audience that has largely tuned out. Those who use Comcast internet service were greeted on Thursday to a shot of Nelly on the Xfinity homepage, not as an ad for golf but for all of NBC’s Olympic coverage. And the network went out of its way to promote the Korda family, wedging mentions into places where it didn’t always fit.
They’re used to it. The sisters have been asked so many questions about their family that the answers are as familiar as lines in a long-running play. But that doesn’t dampen their drive to win, especially on a stage like this.
“I’m wearing ‘USA’ across my chest, I think that’s really cool, a huge honor,” Nelly said. “But other than that, I’m approaching it as I would any week. I think when people ask me if I prepare more or put more meaning to majors or Olympics or whatever, I say no, because I go into any type of event with the same demeanor and the same goal.
“Every day’s a clean slate. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know what you’re going to shoot. The best you can do is go in with a good attitude and try your best.”
That statement is true for golf. And it’s true for business. Even one as fickle as network television.
© 2021 Global Golf Post LLC
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