AIG Women's Open: St Andrews bracing itself for the Nelly Korda Show

Nelly Korda will tee up at St Andrews in the AIG Women's Open in August. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)Nelly Korda will tee up at St Andrews in the AIG Women's Open in August. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Nelly Korda will tee up at St Andrews in the AIG Women's Open in August. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
All eyes on American taking women’s golf by storm

Nelly Korda may still have been flying under the radar for most Scottish golf fans when she teed up in the 2022 AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield, but not anymore. On the back of a brilliant run of winning six times in her last seven starts, the American is heading to St Andrews in the summer for this year’s edition of The R&A major as a box-office star.

Off the course, Korda recently became the first LPGA Tour player – and first golfer since Tiger Woods in 2013 – to attend the Met Gala, an annual haute couture fund-raising festival held for the benefit of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute in Manhattan and widely regarded as the world's most- prestigious and glamorous fashion event.

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It’s on the course, though, that the 29-year-old has been setting the records that really matter in terms of a legacy, with a latest win in the Mizuho Americas Open at Liberty National in New York last weekend moving her close to securing the status afforded to legends in the game and that’s actually scary when you get the feeling that she’s only just getting started in terms of what she can go on and achieve.

Korda, the current Olympic champion, is the first player to record six successes in a single season on the LPGA Tour since Korean Inbee Park in 2013. She’s also just the eighth player to rack up six or more titles in one season since 1980, joining, in addition to Park, Betsy King (1989), Beth Daniel (1990), Annika Sorenstam (1997, 2003), Karrie Webb (1999, 2000), Lorena Ochoa (2006, 2008) and Yani Tseng (2011).

“It’s incredible what she is doing,” said Georgia Hall, the 2018 AIG Women’s Open champion, speaking at a media day in St Andrews for the year’s edition on 22-25 August. “I think it’s so good for the women’s game in general, the media coverage she is getting and the record numbers of people tuning in on TV when she won the first major of the year. Every time she tees up now, people think she is going to win and I think it’s really good to have that in our game at the moment as it’s what’s needed to help increase numbers everywhere. She also deserves it. I know her quite well and she works very hard.”

Korda sparked her run by winning the LPGA Drive On Championship before then adding the Fir Hills Seri Pak Championship, the Ford Championship presented by KCC, the T-Mobile Match Play presented by MGM Rewards and The Chevron Championship - a second major victory - in successive starts. Her winning streak was broken in the Cognizant Founders Cup by compatriot Rose Zhang before Korda quickly returned to winning ways last weekend as she came out on top in a last-round duel with Australian Hannah Green.

“No,” replied Hall, who shared the Silver Medal honours for leading amateur with Lydia Ko in the last AIG Women’s Open at St Andrews in 2013, in a flash to being asked if she’d ever thought any player could enjoy such an incredible run of success. “I don’t know how she is doing it, to be honest. It’s unbelievable and she makes it look so easy. It’s the US Open next week and obviously she’s going to be the hot favourite in it.”

When Nancy Lopez won five times in a row during her rookie season in 1978, she featured on Sports Illustrated’s illustrious front cover and it might be too long before Korda is given the same treatment. “That sort of thing can definitely help grow the women’s game,” observed Hall, sitting in the office of The R&A chief executive, Martin Slumbers, high in the clubhouse behind the first tee on the Old Course. “Her name in general can only help in that respect and she’s currently getting so much recognition around the world. It’s great and, even though she’s hard to beat at the moment, all us other players are delighted to see what she’s doing.”

Hall’s major breakthrough at Royal Lytham six years ago was a massive shot in the arm for English golf at grass-roots level. Indeed, she probably played a part in inspiring someone like Lottie Woad, who created history last month by becoming the first European player to win the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. “I didn’t realise what it did at the time as much as I do now,” admitted Hall, an ambassador for The R&A and proud to be so.

“I think that’s what was needed at the time in the UK as we were a bit low at the time I won and there weren’t many young players coming through. I’m just so happy as I met Lottie at the Chevron Championship a few weeks ago and it’s incredible what she’s achieved and I know she’s going to do great things. That’s what we need in the UK as there’s only four or five us on the LPGA at the moment and that’s not many for the number of golf courses we have and how many people play golf in the UK.”

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The AIG Women’s Open will mark the first big event to be held at St Andrews since a major refurbishment of the historic R&A Clubhouse. Involving work that went down five metres, plush new locker-rooms had a “baptism of fire” during The R&A’s recent Spring Meeting involving more than 600 members and players will be using those facilities for the season’s final major in addition to a separate bespoke facility.

“Oh, 100 per cent,” declared Hall in reply to being asked if she felt this year’s event would be the biggest in its history. “I think women’s golf has come so far in the 11 years since it was last here (when current US Solheim Cup captain Stacy Lewis lifted the trophy). Just the history here and the crowds we are going to get. I think the atmosphere will be incredible and it’s not just about winning the Women’s Open but winning at St Andrews. It’s the Home of Golf - everyone wants to win here!”

Hall hopes it will be her but, on current form, all eyes will be on Korda when she steps back on to Scottish soil.

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