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Nelly Korda’s Love of the Game Began at U.S. Women’s Open December 6, 2020 By Garrett Johnston

Nelly Korda has made quite an ascension in the golf world since her Women's Open debut as a 14-year-old amateur in 2013. (Darren Carroll/USGA)

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At the tender age of 22, Nelly Korda already is a veteran of the U.S. Women’s Open. She will make her sixth start in the championship this week at Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas, as the No. 3 player in the Rolex Rankings and one of the pre-championship favorites.

But it was seven years ago, when Korda was an unheralded 14-year-old amateur, that she fell in love with the championship and her eventual career path.

Korda made her major-championship debut in the 2013 U.S. Women’s Open at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y. She not only had her father, Petr, on the bag, but also big sister Jessica in the field. The week turned into a huge success, as she made the cut and tied for 64th.

Nelly realized that week at Sebonack she wanted to follow the same professional career path as her older sister. Most 14-year-olds don’t have that kind of clarity, but most 14-year-olds don’t have that kind of talent, either.

Since turning professional in 2016, Nelly has already amassed three LPGA Tour victories and emerged as the top-ranked American, just ahead of major champion and two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Danielle Kang.

All that’s missing from her résumé is a major title, something she almost achieved earlier this year in a playoff loss at the ANA Inspiration. But winning the U.S. Women’s Open remains atop her bucket list.

When asked what it would mean to hoist the Harton S. Semple Trophy and receive the Mickey Wright Medal, Korda made her feelings crystal clear.

“To be honest, that would be a dream come true for me,” she said. “When I first played in the U.S. Women’s Open I was 14 years old, and walking on that range and seeing all the top names in women’s golf and having my sister there and everything, I think that’s where I fell in love with the game. I was like ‘OK, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’

“That tournament will always be one of the most special that I will ever play in,” Korda said.

Nelly Korda (right) had a memorable week in 2013, practicing with sister, Jessica (left) and defending champ Na Yeon Choi. (John Mummert/USGA)

Korda’s best U.S. Women’s Open finish in five previous starts is a tie for 10th two years ago at Shoal Creek. But every time she tees it up in this event, her mind immediately reverts back to that first appearance as an impressionable teen.

“It was actually crazy, I wasn’t that nervous [in the first round],” she recalled. “My dad was caddieing for me.

Korda opened with a 1-over-par 73, which put thoughts of making the cut in her mind.

“I was really nervous my second round because I was like ‘OK, I’ve got a chance to make the cut. You have all these thoughts that you put into your head.”

Korda, who shot 77 in Round 2, did get the chance to play the weekend, leading to a near-dramatic moment on Sunday when she nearly aced a par 4 that won a check for charity.

“There was a reachable par 4 and I hit my driver to like four feet and I made it [for eagle],” said Korda, “and that apparently donated $20,000 to a children’s hospital. So I think that was my favorite moment from that event.

“It was an amazing feeling.”

The chance to play in a U.S. Women’s Open is always a major highlight for any female golfer. Many of the game’s legends have their names etched on the trophy. For Brittany Lincicome, it’s the one major championship she wants to win the most.

The two-time major winner is set to make her 16th U.S. Women’s Open start this week, and like Korda, it was the event where she made her major debut in 2004 as an amateur.

“I would love to win the U.S. Open,” said Lincicome. “I think that would be the coolest thing… to have that beautiful trophy in my house one day.”

Of those 16 starts, Lincicome owns three top-10 U.S. Women’s Open finishes – her last, coincidentally came in that 2013 championship at Sebonack (T-9) – and she offers some solid advice to those aspiring to capture this prestigious title.

“It’s tough when you pick an event and then you put more pressure on yourself because that only comes around once a year,” said Lincicome, whose major titles have come in the ANA Inspiration. “So every year you don’t win it you think ‘Oh gosh I’ve got to wait another year.’ But it’s definitely on my bucket list to win the U.S. Open.”

She’s certainly not alone in that sentiment.

Garrett Johnston is a multimedia journalist based in Maryland, and hosts the Beyond the Clubhouse podcast

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