NAPLES, Fla. — She may only be 19 years old, but 2016 Epson Tour graduate Nelly Korda is mature beyond her years.
Based on her performance throughout her LPGA rookie season, it is evident she’s not your normal 19-year-old. In her first LPGA start at the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic, Korda fired a 21-under par to finish in a tie for fifth.
“I learned a lot on Epson last year, trying to balance everything and playing tournament after tournament,” Korda said. “It really helped out this year.”
Even with the year of experience playing golf professionally, Korda is still learning. That includes a love-hate relationship as far as the travel goes. Love in terms of being able to explore different cultures; hate when it comes to jet lag.
“The travel is definitely one thing I’ve struggled with this year,” said Korda. “But, I think every stop is fun. By far my favorite has been Bahamas because of the views, and I made my rookie debut out there.”
Entering the final tournament of the season—the CME Group Tour Championship—Korda has four total top 10 finishes. That has helped her claim the 51st position on the LPGA official money list, earning $388,983 so far this year.
While Korda has seen her game blossom, she has also been able to experience a new rivalry with her older sister, Jessica Korda.
“When I started junior golf she was entering professional golf,” Nelly said. “Now that we’re on the same tour and we get to experience a lot of things together, it’s really fun. She’s my best friend and we have a lot of laughs together.”
Five-and-a-half years separate the two, and “she’ll make sure you know it’s a half,” Jessica said laughingly.
“Having her play Epson Tour was a good idea because when I was out here at 17 years old, it was a little bit more difficult,” said Jessica. “We wanted her to have a little bit more experience coming into this. She’s had an amazing rookie season and hopefully just better things to come.”
The friendly competition with her sister is sure to be a driving force for Nelly as she continues to make a name for herself, from bragging rights to checking the leaderboard from time to time for that same last name.
“I wish her the best and I hope she kills it every week,” Nelly said. "Obviously, there is a rivalry between us, but it is friendly. We want to beat each other, but we want each other to do well.”
Jessica added that it has been a unique and, at times, comical transition.
“I didn’t know how to handle it because I’m so used to cheering her on. I want her to do well and I want myself to do well. How do I combine the two?” said Jessica, laughing. “You have me cheering for her inside the fairway, watching her play in the group in front of me. It was all a learning curve for us and we just have a lot of fun.”
In addition to having her sister by her side, Nelly has two familiar faces helping progress her game. David Whelan is her swing coach and they have worked together for about four years. Meanwhile, veteran caddy Patrick Turley is on the bag for the CME Group Tour Championship. They worked extensively during Nelly’s year on the Epson Tour, but this will be their first LPGA tournament together.
“It’s definitely a pretty stressful year because you’re trying to prove yourself out here, but then you have to think you got here,” Nelly said. “I’ve had a couple ups and downs, but fortunately I’ve had more ups. I just think of positive stuff and try to think in the moment.”
Nonetheless, it all comes back to family and the one of a kind relationship Nelly and Jessica share.
“If she has a bad putting day, we’ll go on the putting green and sit there together. Same thing if I have a bad day,” Jessica said. “She’ll come out on the range or we’ll be in the room talking about it and see if we can talk ourselves through it. It’s a bond that not a lot of people have. We feel very fortunate to have it.”