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Call it the Korda Slam.
The quirky infatuation of the Korda family with Australian Opens has another chapter, thanks to Nelly Korda’s triumphal march around The Grange in the 2019 ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.
The 20-year-old Floridian was a bump in her mother Regina’s belly when her father Petr, a left-hander who won 10 titles, took the tennis Open in 1998, his only Grand Slam victory. She was a teen when her sister Jessica won the golf Open at Royal Melbourne in 2012 and just a year ago, her brother Sebastian won the boys’ title at the tennis Open. “There must be something in the air,” she said.
It is not just a marketing spiel; it means something to the family. Nelly Korda said at the start of this week she felt “so left out” when her family talked about their Australian Open wins. Now, she can join in the conversation and on Sunday night, she even mimicked her father’s famous scissor-kick celebration. “That felt really good,” she said.
She is a thoroughly modern champion. Not more than a minute or two after she tapped in a par putt at the 18th hole to complete a two-shot victory, Korda was handed a phone and her elder sister was looking at her and screaming at her, through Facetime. Nelly Korda put it in context: “I’m finally a part of the club,” she told Jessica, watching on Golf Channel from Florida.
They are the first pair of sisters to win the Women’s Australian Open golf title, Jessica having won the championship at Royal Melbourne in 2012 as a 17-year-old, on her way to becoming one of the best players in the world. Now she has some major competition for the title of best player in her own family.
Korda began with a three-shot lead and was largely nerveless. She was out by six shots when she made a run of five birdies in six holes to the 12th and it looked to be an utter domination. But then she was challenged by defending champion Jin-Young Ko of South Korea, who was on her way to a sensational closing 64.
Ko was playing flawless golf and just for a moment, when she knocked her second shot in tight at the par-four 18th and made her eighth birdie of the day, there was a glimmer that the result that had looked obvious all day might just change as Korda pulled her second shot at the 15th and made bogey.
The door was bolted closed on the par-four 17th hole, which runs uphill to the green. Korda flushed her iron shot over the flag and it stopped five metres from the cup. Then she buried the left-to-right slider and the lead was two shots as she walked to the 18th tee.
Only a bad tee shot could have stopped her from that point, and she took three wood for safety and drilled it down the fairway. An iron to the back fringe and two putts later, the title was hers.
The old course could not contain her. She shot 17-under over the four days with rounds of 71-66-67-67.
It is her second LPGA Tour victory after her maiden triumph in Taiwan last year, and her world ranking (currently 16th) may well jump to the top-10 tomorrow. In some ways, she is the future of golf with her length off the tee and her ability to compress the ball with her irons, spinning and jagging them on the greens.
Just as the men’s game is about power now, Korda and the likes of world No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn are the standard-bearers of the women’s game. On Saturday, Korda’s tee ball at the par-four 18th ran out to almost 300 metres, albeit slightly downhill and on a fast fairway.
Korda has a laconic walk and she never looked fussed or bothered out on course on Sunday, immediately hitting it close on the third for a birdie, then making a bomb on the seventh and hitting it close again for birdie on the eighth. Her first glitch at the ninth, where she hit the lip of fairway bunker and made bogey, was followed by three more birdies at the 10th, 11th and 12th, by which time — momentarily — she led by six.
Nothing came too easily. Ko was sensational in her title defence, forcing Korda to dig deeper. But a closing 67 was always going to be hard to challenge.
Nelly Korda had spent a lot of her time as a child watching Jessica hit balls at the driving range, the age difference being five years. Her sister encouraged her to go her own way. “What’s really great about Jess is that I was never really in her shadow. I mean, I was, but she never really made me feel like I was in her shadow.”
Ko finished second at 15-under, franking her victory from last year and playing magnificent golf on the final day. Taiwan’s Wei-Ling Hsu was third at 12-under, ahead of Angel Yin (who had nine birdies in her 66) and Haru Nomura at 11-under.
Sarah Kemp and Hannah Green were the leading Australians at eight-under par, tied for 10th.
Five-time winner Karrie Webb closed with a one-over 73 to finish tied-38th. Australia’s top-ranked player Minjee Lee had a 69 to finish tied-16th.
World No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn found her game over the weekend and shot 69 today to finished 41st.