Home Sports As women’s golf looks to grow, Nelly Korda is ‘kind of our Caitlin Clark’

As women’s golf looks to grow, Nelly Korda is ‘kind of our Caitlin Clark’

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Nelly Korda raised four fingers while posing with yet another trophy following her most recent LPGA Tour triumph. Her gesture was a nod to extending her winning streak to one short of the record shared by two of the most decorated figures in women’s golf: Hall of Famers Nancy Lopez and Annika Sorenstam.

Now the world’s top-ranked player will seek a fifth consecutive victory at this week’s Chevron Championship, the first of the circuit’s five majors. The stakes this time include a second major title and a $1.2 million first-place check, the largest in the tournament’s history. But not lost on Korda — or LPGA Tour officials and her playing peers — is the elevated attention she brings at a potential inflection point in the industry thanks to record prize money and growing interest in women’s sports.

The Chevron Championship has a total purse of $7.9 million, the richest since the tournament’s inception and an increase from $5.2 million in 2023. The U.S. Golf Association announced in February a total purse of $12 million for the U.S. Women’s Open, the biggest in women’s golf history.

“I think it’s happening right now with Nelly,” said world No. 2 Lilia Vu, the reigning Chevron champion. “She is bringing so much to the table just win after win, just having everything together. She’s done such a good job, so well-liked and loved out here. She brings a big following. She’s a great person, so just her — she’s kind of our Caitlin Clark out here.”

The former Iowa point guard became the face of women’s college basketball over the past two seasons, culminating April 7 when an average of 18.7 million viewers tuned in to watch South Carolina beat the Hawkeyes in the national championship game. The game peaked at 24 million combined viewers on ESPN and ABC; it was the first time the women’s final attracted a larger television audience than the men’s.

“People love to follow a star, so I think we all know and recognize that,” said LPGA Tour Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan, who took over in 2021, the year Korda won her first major at the Women’s PGA Championship. “We want to make sure Nelly Korda can reach her peak performance also. It’s a lot of pressure on an athlete, but she’s handled it extremely well.”

The LPGA Tour is aiming to capitalize on Korda’s streak, a run of prosperity unmatched since Lorena Ochoa, a Hall of Famer and former world No. 1, won four straight events in 2008. It has assembled a marketing department for the first time, and much of the work behind the scenes is devoted to shining an even brighter spotlight on Korda’s sizzling start.

Korda, 25, is coming off a win two weeks ago at a match play event in Las Vegas, where she dispatched Leona Maguire, 4 and 3, in the final.

The American had taken off nearly two months, missing the entire Asia swing, on the heels of winning the LPGA Drive On Championship, the second tournament of the year, in late January in her hometown of Bradenton, Fla. She came back in late March to win the Seri Pak Championship in suburban Los Angeles and the Ford Championship in Gilbert, Ariz., where she fired a 20-under-par 268. She is first on the money list ($1,224,216), in player of the year points (120) and in U.S. Solheim Cup points (1,843.5), and she could become the first player to win five straight events since Sorenstam accomplished the feat across two seasons in 2004 and 2005.

“For her to win the second event of the year and have eight weeks off and win the next three, I was like, ‘Man, I shouldn’t have played, all playing for second place,’ ” said world No. 8 Lydia Ko, who needs one win to secure a spot in the LPGA Hall of Fame. “I think it’s great for women’s golf, and I think with her playing well, it’s inspiring and motivating the rest of us to keep doing what we’re working on.”

Korda’s surge has generated a considerable bump in fan engagement, Marcoux Samaan said. At this time in 2022, overall media consumption for LPGA Tour events was roughly 4 million impressions per week based on metrics compiled by the tour — which includes television viewing, streaming and social media engagement. Using the same metric, impressions have climbed to more than 11 million over the past few weeks.

There will be other opportunities for Korda to raise the profile of women’s golf this year, including at the Summer Olympics in Paris, where she is on track to be a member of Team USA again after winning gold in Tokyo in 2021, and at the Solheim Cup in September at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville.

But it starts at the Chevron, where last year Korda finished one stroke behind the leaders in the tournament’s debut at its new home, The Club at Carlton Woods in The Woodlands, Tex.

“I think Nelly does have a responsibility — and she probably doesn’t always want it, just knowing her — but it’s saying yes,” U.S. Solheim Cup captain Stacy Lewis said. “Continuing to play great golf, though, is number one. That’s what helps our tour the most — her playing great golf. What I would tell her is to remember that. I would tell her to do as much extra stuff as you can for us.”

Among the most popular players on tour since turning professional in 2017, Korda often remains on the course well after her round ends to sign autographs, pose for selfies and interact with the throng of fans waiting for their moment with a player who has more than 826,000 followers on Instagram. She also has boosted communities through philanthropic endeavors. In 2021, Korda’s victory at the Meijer LPGA Classic yielded a $25,000 donation benefiting Kids’ Food Basket, her chosen charity for youth hunger relief, in Grand Rapids, Mich., the tournament’s host city.

“Never any burden when it comes to this,” Korda said. “Obviously with the run I’ve been on, maybe there are more eyeballs on me, but I always am very grateful for this because I know how fast something can be taken away from you. So I hope that people see who I am, my true self, and that inspires them, too.”

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