[PHOTO: Andy Lyons]

With a leap and a splash, Nelly Korda cemented one of the great runs in LPGA history. After winning the Chevron Championship today with a final-round 69, she continued the tradition of jumping into the pond next to the Country Club of Carlton Woods’ 18th green. Korda’s two-stroke victory over Maja Stark makes her one of three in LPGA history to win five straight starts, joining Hall of Famers Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sorenstam (2004-2005).

“It’s an amazing feeling because all the hard work and the doubt that I had in my head from 2021,” said Korda, who shot 13-under-par 275 total. “I worked through it, and it’s been an amazing feeling these past couple of weeks knowing that I can go on this stretch and that if I stay in my bubble and I keep golf in a sense simple and let it flow, then I can have so, so much fun out here. It’s just been an amazing time.

“To get five in a row, and my lucky number is 13, and for me to get it here in Houston and it to be a major feels even better.”

Are Nelly Korda and the LPGA Tour ready for their close-up?

Today’s quest to history began early, with the 25-year-old American restarting her third round at 7am, needing to finish six holes from a weather-delayed third round. Korda played them in even-par, finishing at 10-under and a stroke off the lead.

Korda was unflappable on the final round’s front nine with a bogey-free 33. A chip-in on the par-4 10th built a four-stroke lead. That’s when she started doing “Nelly things”, which is her way of saying she made things more interesting than they needed to be down the stretch. Korda often caught herself thinking ahead to the 18th green and a victory, only to bring herself back to the present moment.

“I was really nervous on that back nine,” Korda said. “I really, really wanted this win.”

An errant drive on the 11th led to her first bogey in 39 holes. Korda missed a four-footer for a birdie on the par-5 13th. She drove it in the water on the par-4 15th, the hardest hole on the course over the final round, resulting in another bogey.

“Those mistakes, you start to put a little bit more pressure on yourself that you don’t know what the other girls are doing ahead of you,” Korda said.

Even with no players getting within two strokes of Korda’s lead, she and caddie Jason McDede remembered their disappointing finish from the 2020 ANA Inspiration, the predecessor to the Chevron. Mirim Lee chipped in three times that Sunday at the Dinah Shore course to get into a playoff with Korda and Brooke Henderson. Lee stole the tournament with an eagle chip-in on the 72nd hole and won the playoff with a birdie.

As Korda and McDede headed to Carlton Wood’s 16th, McDede turned to his boss and told her to finish with a clean scorecard.

“We got some pretty big heartbreak at Dinah losing in that playoff, and I think that’s kind of what we didn’t talk about it,” McDede said. “But I think It was in the back of our minds. It wasn’t going to be over ’til it was over.”

Korda responded with a par on 16 and a near-ace on the par-3 17th, as her tee shot hit the flagstick. After missing the short birdie look, Korda piped a drive into the centre of the fairway on the 18th. Ahead, Stark made birdie to get within one of the lead, making it the first time since the fourth hole that was the case.

Korda then hit her second pin-high on the par-5 18th’s fringe. Finally, McDede and Korda took a breath. Korda two-putted for a birdie to cap off her five-in-a-row run.

“The swing on the 17th tee, and the swing on the 18th tee, and that swing here [18th approach], I won’t forget for a long, long time,” Korda’s coach Jamie Mulligan said.

Korda was unsure heading into 2024 if a season like this could happen. After her four-win 2021 campaign, including Korda’s first major title at the Women’s PGA Championship, the next two years of winless play put doubts into her mind if she could get another major title. In 2022, she was sidelined for six months after emergency surgery for a blood clot in her arm and didn’t win. Last year, despite 10 top-10 finishes, she couldn’t find the winner’s circle.

“I heard some outside voices from other people saying that they don’t know if I’ll ever be able to win another major again,” Korda said. “And I stuck to working extremely hard on and off the golf course, and I’m so thankful to have the team that I do.”

Photo: Gregory Shamus

Korda’s team includes physio Kim Baughman, McDede, manager Chris Mullhaupt and Mulligan, who all worked together to put Korda in positions to succeed.

After every day, while Korda met with the media, they had a meeting to break down the round. Mulligan sat McDede and Korda down at the start of the week, reminding them that Carlton Woods won’t become a birdie-fest. He encouraged them to pick their spots to be aggressive. Baughman helps ensure Korda’s body stays in shape, as she’s playing fully healthy for the first time since her 2021 campaign. Mulligan serves as a beacon of positivity, with four of his sayings in Korda’s yardage book that she looks at before every shot. McDede is Korda’s best friend, serving as a punching bag when Korda needs it. Baughman, McDede and Mulligan joined Korda in jumping into the pond outside the 18th.

“I just think she’s kind of slipped into [the system] more,” Mulligan said. “If you’re watching a game, if you’re watching a football game, and towards the end of the game, and everybody gets better, and she’s gotten better.”

The circle’s success has fuelled a historic win streak that generated additional fan intrigue into the LPGA world. Korda is becoming a marquee draw the tour hasn’t seen since Michelle Wie West, with the crowds following Korda growing throughout the week to the last day, which produced some of the largest galleries the LPGA has seen in recent years.

LPGA commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan even followed Korda during the final round.

Korda’s title run also gave the tour a potential jolt for its TV audience. On Saturday, it had only 57 minutes of live golf in its three hours on NBC due to a weather delay that pushed the final round to early Sunday morning. US fans who tuned into network TV on Sunday witnessed more than three hours of the 13-time winner’s march to history. NBC stayed with the final-round telecast after the initial 5pm local window. There was a chance for PGA Tour fans to switch from the RBC Heritage, as that was in a lengthy weather delay.

“I think we’ve had all of the stars were aligned for today,” Marcoux Samaan said.

Korda continues adding her name to the tour’s compendium of records. She is tied for the most consecutive tour wins in scheduled events (four), joining LPGA Hall of Famers Kathy Whitworth (1969), Mickey Wright (1962, 1963), Sorenstam (2001) and Lorena Ochoa (2008). Korda is the first world No.1 to win an LPGA major since Lydia Ko at this event in 2016.

“What people don’t realise is people want a lot of your time doing press conferences, doing extra time, having to do other things outside of just playing golf, and she’s obviously handled that super-well,” Ko said. “She’s been playing unbelievable.

“I don’t think there is, in my era, I’m not really sure if anyone has played better over a stretch of events.”

The clubs Nelly Korda used to win the 2024 Chevron Championship

There will not be much rest for Korda. She said that she intends to play in the JM Eagle LA Open this week at Wilshire Country Club. And she’ll tee it up with a chance to become the first to win five consecutive scheduled events and win six starts in a row for the first time on the LPGA.

“I’m going to enjoy this right now and then I’ll think about that,” Korda said. “But yeah, it’s been an amazing time. Hopefully keep the streak alive. But I’ve been so grateful to compete week-in and week-out and get the five in a row, too.”