How Nelly Korda’s inner circle has helped power her historic run

Nelly Korda has had to hit all the shots en route to five consecutive LPGA wins. But she has a supportive and hardworking team behind her.

The post How Nelly Korda’s inner circle has helped power her historic run appeared first on Golf.

Nelly Korda has had to hit all the shots en route to five consecutive LPGA wins. But she has a supportive and hardworking team behind her.

The post How Nelly Korda’s inner circle has helped power her historic run appeared first on Golf.

THE WOODLANDS, Texas — For all of her world-beating talent, Nelly Korda doesn’t always make it easy on herself when chasing down trophies on Sunday afternoons. She even has branded a term for the obstacles she sometimes lays down in her own path: “Nelly things.”

Just don’t utter those words around her coach.

“I don’t like the Nelly things phrase for too many reasons to list,” Korda’s instructor, Jamie Mulligan, said Sunday evening from the Chevron Championship as he watched his star pupil put the finishing touches on her second-career major title and fifth consecutive win. “I’m like, ‘Let’s do our system.’”

That system is all about keeping things simple in the heat of competition: Don’t overthink. Don’t overstress. Stay in the moment. Let it flow.

The system is working wonders.

Korda looked in full command of both her game and her emotions all week on the Jack Nicklaus course at Carlton Woods. She never had to mount a furious comeback, because she was never too far behind. She also didn’t let a big lead slip away. Once she sprinted ahead Sunday, she stayed there.

Indeed, Korda needed only one hole to grab a share of the final-round lead. A hole after that, she had the top of the leaderboard to herself. After a chip-in at 10, she had gone 39 holes without a bogey and opened up a four-shot lead.

Korda faltered with bogeys on Nos. 11 and 15, but even when things didn’t go her way, she looked unbothered.

The only shot all week that Korda seemed worried about was her next one.

After hitting hit her tee ball at 15 into the water, Korda had to take a drop and play her third shot into the green over the same stream that her tee shot had found. After impact, she leaned like she had missed right, but she had nothing to worry about. Her ball landed just beyond the flagstick, and she saved bogey.

That’s when her caddie, Jason McDede, stepped in.

“I kind of said to her on 15, like, ‘Look, let’s play three good holes here. Let’s come in and let’s try to be clean on the scorecard,’” he said.

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It was a simple thought, but that’s the kind of thinking that her coach has been preaching — and that had put Korda in this position in the first place. During her bogey-free run, Korda never really came close to making worse that par. She faced few long- or even mid-range par saves, and she was rarely out of position.

In difficult and cold conditions early Sunday morning, when the third round had to be completed due to storms Saturday afternoon, Korda made six straight pars as the rest of the leaders struggled. In majors, making pars in bunches — and avoiding anything worse — generally is a recipe for success. Korda led the field in birdies this week but also was tied for second with just five bogeys in 72 holes.

When Korda has been asked about her winning streak or march toward history, she often has referenced the importance of her “bubble.”.

She began this week shouldering expectations that no LPGA player has carried in nearly two decades. Annika Sorenstam was the last player to win five in a row, doing so across the 2004 and 2005 seasons, and Nancy Lopez accomplished the feat in 1978. Korda needed a win at the Chevron to join them

“We told her to just enjoy the time,” said Korda’s father, Petr, a former world-class tennis pro who himself knows something about playing under a spotlight.

Nelly’s inner circle was a big part of how she handled that pressure, beginning with Mulligan, who after a hiatus she resumed working with last year.

“If you’re watching a football game and towards the end of the game, everybody gets better — and she got better,” said Mulligan, who teaches out of Virginia CC in Long Beach, Calif. “It’s hard to win a major, and the girls were firing at her and she did the right thing.”

McDede, Korda’s caddie, says Mulligan’s laidback “aura” helps the entire team stay calm and confident. Mulligan helped Korda and McDede develop a game plan for Carlton Woods, but that all that strategizing came in advance. When play begins in earnest, Mulligan knows it’s time to let Korda and McDede do their thing.

“When he looks at you to be locked in, then you’re locked in,” McDede said. “It’s a mutual respect on the team right now. Everybody respects everybody’s role. And I think that’s huge.”

Korda’s parents, Petr and Regina, also were onsite this week and followed every one of their daughter’s shots from outside the ropes. On Sunday morning, as Nelly warmed up, Mulligan kept a close eye on her. So, too, did Nelly’s agent, Chris Mullhaupt, and physiotherapist, Kim Baughman. The bubble.

But once Nelly walked through the tunnel to the first tee, it was time for Korda and McDede to lock in.

And let the system do its thing.

Nelly Korda of the United States plays her shot from the 16th tee during the final round of The Chevron Championship at The Club at Carlton Woods
Nelly Korda at the Chevron on Sunday. getty images

Korda has been effusive in her praise for McDede.

“I honestly don’t have any words, just because there are too many,” she said. “He has been by my side for every single one of my wins out here, and in a sense he’s my punching bag out there, he’s my best friend and he’s my teammate.

“I wouldn’t be able to do it without him because his encouragement on and off the golf course has been amazing, and I’m just so, so, so thankful for him. I hope he knows it.”

Tour life hasn’t always been easy for Korda. After her breakout year in 2021 when she won four times including her first major, Korda was hampered by injuries in the following two seasons. Her performance suffered and doubts crept in. But positive energy from her team — especially from Mulligan — kept her plowing forward.

On Sunday, Korda stuffed her approach at 17. She didn’t make the putt, but the assurance of heading to 18, a reachable par-5, with a two-stroke lead was huge.

On the 72nd hole, a smashed drive left her just a 7-iron for her second shot. Her approach just cleared the front bunker and released to the back right fringe. That’s when it was finally time to soak it all in.

“You never take a deep breath in golf,” McDede said. “But I felt like once we saw the ball finish on the green, we were like, ‘Okay, let’s just let’s just take her a little slow.’”

Korda two-putted to secure the two-shot win — and a piece of history.

Later in the evening, when Korda took the traditional winner’s jump in the pond — a carryover from when this event was played at Mission Hills, in Southern California — Korda’s team led the charge. First Baughman made the leap, and then Mullhaupt, followed by Mulligan. Last before Korda, fittingly, was McDede.

“He’s the one that kept me in it,” Korda said. “He’s the one that kept telling me a shot at a time, a shot at a time, don’t get ahead of yourself, stick to what’s in front of you and work on that.”

Simple plan, right?

Effective, too.

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