Nelly Korda doesn’t like learning about courses before arriving. She wants to process the course in her own way, with her own eyes, before coming up with a plan of attack. While her team members have scouted out Pebble Beach before their arrival, Korda’s only experience with the historic course before stepping onto the grounds came from playing a decade-old Tiger Woods video game.
“Actually, I played [hole] 7 on EA Sports,” Korda said. “That was the one hole my brother [and I] we always played Pebble … and my favourite hole was always 7 on that game.”
In a seeming homage to her love of that famed short par 3, Korda nearly aced it with a pitching wedge Monday ending up less than an inch from the cup in her practice round. It would’ve been her first ace since she was 11.
That ball-striking precision was something missing from her KPMG Women’s PGA Championship performance, less than two weeks after one of her most disappointing results in a major championship where Korda missed both ways and struggled to make putts. Rounds of 76 and 77 at Baltusrol resulted in the No. 2 player in the world missing the cut at that championship for the first time in her career.
Korda left Baltusrol on Friday and is determined not to have to leave so early this week. She hunkered down on the range Monday working with her dad Petr and coaches David Whelan and Jamie Mulligan.
— U.S. Women’s Open (USGA) (@uswomensopen) July 3, 2023
“Making sure that I was mentally ready to come into this week,” Korda said. “I just put my head down and grinded. I love that about golf. I think no one knows everything and no one is an expert, and I think that this is the beauty of the game is that everyone experiences highs and lows.”
This week Korda, 24, has a chance to wash away the bad taste at a dream locale, the first time the US Women’s Open will be played at Pebble Beach. That’ll involve improving the 64 per cent of greens she hit at Baltusrol, nearly 10 per cent lower than her career average. Heightening the difficulty is the difference in greens between the courses, as Korda compared the larger ones in New Jersey to some of the diabolical complexes in abundance at Pebble Beach. She highlighted the par-5 14th hole as an opportunity to spin a wedge off the narrow green.
“If you’re not striking it well and you’re coming in from the rough, it’s going to be super tough,” Korda said. “If you’re coming in with long irons, too, on the bouncy Poa, it’s not like Baltusrol where you can run it up. I feel like here you’re going to have to fly it on to the greens properly and they’re small, too.”
While acknowledging its challenges, Korda spoke with reverence for the course. She beamed while describing the scenic venue as iconic and feeling fortunate to play. But for her to rebound from a tough week to win her second major title, it’ll take more than respect for the course she first learned as a child on a video game. Besides sorting out her swing, Korda is focusing on learning where Pebble allows for less punishing misses and hoping for good fortune.
“Being lucky [is important],” Korda said. “I think that all kind of needs to come together, but probably the smallest greens I’ve ever seen. It’s an amazing golf course. I think every part of your game has to really click.”