[PHOTO: Orlando Ramirez]

Nelly Korda lost a two-stroke lead with two holes to play at the Fir Hills Seri Pak Championship and needed a reset. After carding a nine-under total for the tournament, she had only had 10 minutes to collect herself before heading to a playoff against 14-year tour veteran Ryann O’Toole.

With the chance of back-to-back LPGA victories, Korda, 25, saw her close-knit circle kick into gear. It heard Korda vent, giving her the space to let go of the anguish of the end of her round, and then coach Jamie Mulligan told her a joke that allowed her to refocus.

Korda then headed to the 18th tee and birdied the first extra hole by holing a 15-foot putt to win at Palos Verdes Golf Club outside Los Angeles. Her second playoff win of the year returned her to No.1 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings and already secured her first multiple-victory season since 2021.

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“Sometimes golf, you put so much effort into practice and into golf, and it kind of goes sideways and sometimes golf just kind of feels easy in a sense where everything is kind of flowing,” Korda said. “Throughout my career and throughout the rest of my career I’m going to have those times. Everyone kind of goes through them. But I think it’s just managing it and having a team around you that knows you really well and that know how to put your head back into the game.”

Korda returned to the LPGA after a seven-week break, the first time in her career that she put the clubs away for an extended period because she wanted to, rather than recovering from injury. While she spent time with family in Prague and took three-and-a-half hour drives to visit her sister Jessica and new nephew Greyson, Korda’s game wasn’t necessarily prepared for the week. In her first-round 72, she said she felt like every chip came up short and she wasn’t capitalising on scoring chances.

Korda’s solution is the same approach she has had over her career: no need for any major overhauls, just put in the work. Mulligan was there for the entire week, and the two practised before and after her rounds to refine what was needed for the next day. With the winds howling up to 40 miles per hour, they leaned on her experiences battling gales from growing up in Florida and playing in past AIG Women’s Opens, emphasising more controlled shots to minimise mistakes. Their tweaks, along with Mulligan’s sage advice, led to Korda posting a pair of 67s to put her two behind going into the final day.

“I’m not the type of person that wants to reinvent my swing or my game,” Korda said. “I like to keep it very simple. I think when I play well I succeed well with a simple game. Just making sure that everything is in line for me.”

Korda didn’t think outside of the present today until the par-5 14th, where her eagle vaulted her two ahead of the field and in a position to break away. Instead, Korda wouldn’t record a par the rest of the day, finishing eagle-bogey-birdie-bogey-bogey to tie O’Toole who sat in the clubhouse.

“I say this all the time, but I seem to always make it interesting,” Korda said. “Just doing normal Nelly things, making it interesting.”

Korda’s playoff hole was more straightforward. She hit a towering 8-iron from the left rough, setting up a makeable putt for the win. These heart-racing moments were what Korda recognised she enjoyed the most about golf during her struggles the past few seasons.

“There is nothing better than that adrenaline rush coming down your last couple holes when you’re in the lead,” Korda said. “When it comes to wins, obviously every event that I play in I want to win, but I also just love the experiences of playing in these events and learning more about myself.”

Korda appears close to fully returning to her 2021 apex form after a 2022 season marred by being out with a blood clot in her right arm and a winless 2023 campaign. Being No.1 in the world rankings puts Korda in an excellent position to defend her 2020 Olympic gold medal in Paris. She is peaking heading into the majors season, with the Chevron Championship less than a month away.

Instead of envisioning what winning her second major title might do or where her game might ascend to next, Korda wants to stick with her process and let that carry her to whatever heights she may reach.

“My goals are mainly very present in where I am right now, the week I’m playing, and just small little goals will eventually lead you to the big goals,” Korda said.