BETHESDA, Md.: It was just one year ago that Nelly Korda won the Women’s PGA Championship, securing her first major and reaching No. 1 in the world.
“It feels like forever ago, honestly,” she said.
A lot has happened — both good and bad — since then for Korda. She also won an Olympic gold medal last year for the US, but she went through a four-month layoff this year because of health problems and only recently returned. This week she defends her title at the Women’s PGA at Congressional Country Club — looking ready to contend after a near-victory in Michigan last week.
“I gave myself a chance last week,” she said. “If you told me that when I was laying in the ER, I would have definitely been very happy with that.”
Korda’s season was interrupted when she felt swelling in her left arm — a blood clot in the subclavian vein. She missed the year’s first major in the California desert and and had surgery in April.
It’s unusual for her to take that much time away, but she’s been in good form since returning. She tied for eighth at the US Women’s Open, then lost in a playoff at the LPGA Meijer Classic last weekend.
“That was the longest time I think I’ve ever gone without hitting a golf ball,” Korda said. “Ever since I started hitting, it’s just been kind of full throttle, and I have been practicing pretty much. I have not taken more than two or three days off since then. I’m just happy to be out here playing competitive golf.”
Korda says it’s been important to stay positive in the aftermath of her health issues.
“I feel like the more you enjoy it out there, the better you play, the less you get kind of ticked off, the less things go wrong, I guess, in a sense,” she said. “Since I’ve been back, I’ve made sure that I’ve had a good attitude and enjoyed every second of it, and I think that’s contributed to my good play.”
This week’s tournament, sponsored by KPMG, is doubling the size of its purse to $9 million, with the winner receiving $1.35 million. The 6,894-yard, par-72 Congressional course could be softened up for the first round. Some thunder rolled through the area Wednesday, with more rain a possibility overnight.
“I think KPMG and the PGA have just done a phenomenal job of getting us on these amazing golf courses and really raising the bar for women’s golf,” Brooke Henderson said. “Very grateful for that. I’ve said it a bunch, but I’m just super excited to be playing here on this amazing golf course.”
Weather permitting, Korda is scheduled to tee off Thursday morning with Henderson and Inbee Park. That group has combined to win this event five times. Park won three straight titles from 2013-15 before Henderson ended that streak with a victory of her own in 2016.
Korda enters this tournament at No. 2 in the world behind Jin Young Ko of South Korea. Minjee Lee of Australia is third, having won the most recent major at the US Women’s Open.
Jennifer Kupcho, who won major Chevron Championship, also prevailed last week in Michigan.
“It’s definitely good confidence,” Kupcho said. “I think hitting the ball so well last week is really important. Especially coming into a major.”
Korda has reason to feel confident too. She was part of the three-way tie that forced the playoff in Michigan. She appears healthy enough to contend at Congressional — and mentally ready after last year’s victory at the Women’s PGA.
“I don’t think I’ve changed a bunch in the past year. In a sense I think I’ve just become a little bit more consistent and confident that I can win a major championship,” Korda said. “I think I’ve just kind of learned my way around the major championship week and not to put too much pressure on myself and to enjoy every moment too because a lot of people emphasize major championship weeks so much. Maybe they put a little too much pressure on themselves when at the end of the day you’re playing with the same girls pretty much every single week.”