KAWAGOE, Japan – When U.S. golfer Nelly Korda sat atop the leaderboard with a three-shot lead at 15 under heading into the final round of the women’s tournament, she quickly felt her competition nipping at her heels. A double bogey on the seventh hole opened the door to Korda’s challengers eager to usurp her throne.
The first-time Olympian’s response was written in the stars.
Korda, 23, was born on July 28. Her astrological sign is a Leo, which corresponds to its namesake constellation associated with the mythological Nemean lion. Like a lion, Korda proved she could fight and emerged from a challenging round with Olympic gold.
“My parents always say that I’m a lion because ever since a young age, I’ve always been super determined and super focused on what I want,” Korda said. “So I think I’m just, in a sense, I feel like it’s built inside of me.”
After settling into a three-way tie with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko and India’s Aditi Ashok following the double bogey, Korda birdied the par-5 8th, par-4 9th and par-3 10th to assume sole ownership of the lead. She finished with a 2-under-par 69, dropping her to 17 under for the tournament and securing the Olympic title.
Back home in Bradenton, Florida, her father Petr Korda and mother Regina Rajchrtova Korda, both former Czech professional tennis players, watched on with plenty of nerves and lots of pride.
“Today, it’s standing up as a fighter,” Petr told USA TODAY of Nelly’s best trait. “She didn’t play well and she fought really, really hard and she never gave up. Especially after that double bogey, she came back with the three birdies. She is a sign of Leo, so she’s always fighting like a lion.”
Even after her three-birdie rebound, Nelly still had to battle with title suitors throughout the back nine. Japan’s Mone Inami put together a strong charge, making birdies on five of the final nine holes and narrowing Nelly’s lead to one shot.
Then, Ko made her move up the leaderboard. She birdied the 15th while Nelly settled for par, slipping into a tie for silver at 16 under with Inami. When ominous storm clouds rolled through the skies of Kasumigaseki Country Club, officials stopped play and forced Nelly to step away.
That’s when she leaned on her older sister and fellow U.S. teammate, Jessica, for support.
“Obviously, I was nervous,” Nelly said. “But during the rain delay, I was just with my sister relaxing, kind of chit-chatting on the ground in the clubhouse. I think that really helped a lot, just kind of not think about it and just kind of take a step away in a sense during that rain delay and have some fun.”
When the tournament resumed 45 minutes later, Nelly wasn’t the only one who returned to play refreshed – Inami did, too.
The Tokyo native made a 14-foot birdie putt on the 17th and moved into a tie for the lead with Nelly. Determined to not let her nerves take over, Nelly made par on the 17th.
“I was just focusing on kinda executing that,” Nelly said. “I kinda had a hit, hit a soft flop shot over the ridge to kind of get it close and I was just really focusing on executing the shot and trying to stay as focused as possible on myself and to stay present.”
The par-4 18th challenged golfers all day long, with only five birdies made. On her second shot, Inami plugged her ball in the face of the front bunker. She tried to save par on her third shot, but she didn’t use enough power to get to the hole. Inami settled for a bogey.
With Jessica watching on the side of the green, Nelly closed out, making par and cementing her gold medal. She finished one shot ahead of Inami and Ko, who headed to a playoff. In the playoff on the 18th, Inami made par and Ko bogeyed, earning them silver and bronze, respectively.
“After today, Lydia was playing really well,” Nelly said. “So was Mone. They both played super well, so we were all bunched up there. It was very stressful, but I kept it together. I fought pretty hard.”
The Olympic gold followed Nelly’s trajectory of success on the LPGA this season. She has earned three wins in 2021 so far, including her first major victory at the Women’s PGA Championship. Following her major championship, Nelly became the No. 1-ranked player in the world.
While Nelly channeled the ferocity of a lion in her 67-62-69-69 Olympic tournament, Jessica compared her sister’s recent successes to those of a different type of animal – the “G.O.A.T.,” the greatest of all time.
“It’s tough to win out here and she makes it look easy,” Jessica said. “But these girls are good. Look at the leaderboard every week. This is how it is. So for her to be doing what she’s doing is insane to me. But at the same time, it’s so cool. This is like total G.O.A.T. status for me.”
With a gold medal around her neck and the Olympics in her past, Nelly is already looking ahead. Next, she’s off to the Czech Republic with Jessica to visit family before participating in the AIG Women’s Open in Scotland.
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There, she’ll look to extend her success, but she’s still trying to pin down exactly why she’s put together a such dominant season so far.
“I don’t know,” Korda said. “I hope I find out, because then I’ll keep doing it. You get on these waves in sports where sometimes everything is going well and then sometimes you’re working so hard and nothing’s going well. So right now, I’m riding it out.”
But to Petr, there’s no secret formula to what Nelly has accomplished.
“I think at the end of the day, she’s putting a lot of hours into her work,” Petr said. “Not just on the golf course, but also off the golf course. It’s paying off, but (she’s) consistently trying to improve year by year, she’s still very young. She wants to learn quite a lot.”
With the high expectations coupled with being the best in the world, Nelly showed she can maintain her focus on the world’s biggest stage even when the round isn’t going perfectly. After all, she’s a fighter.