Analysis: Korda is head and shoulders over her peers. She hopes winning is enough to help golf grow

LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) — Nelly Korda has won six of her last seven tournaments. She tied a record held by two LPGA greats, Nancy Lopez and Annika Sorenstam, by winning five tournaments in a row. So it's safe to say she is head and shoulders over everyone else.

She felt that way outside the ropes, too.

One of her favorite moments this year was when Korda became the first LPGA player — and first golfer since Tiger Woods in 2013 — to attend the Met Gala earlier this month at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“For me, it was more shocking how tall I was compared to everyone,” Korda said Tuesday with an easy smile. She is 5-foot-10 — her height contributes to one of the most graceful, athletic swings in golf — and Korda was quick to point out she was in heels.

“We were in a tent, and there was no air conditioning and it was really hot, and everyone was like sweating,” Korda said. “And I was like, ‘Oh, the air’s fine up here, guys.'"

She says the best part of such a cool experience was looking around at who was there. “The ultimate people-watching fest,” is how she described it.

Korda should know the feeling. No one gets more eyeballs in women's golf at the moment. She has become the singular star of the LPGA Tour, the No. 1 player in the women's world ranking by more than twice the margin of No. 2.

Expectations have never been greater, and the stage is the biggest of the year.

The U.S. Women's Open starts Thursday at Lancaster Country Club, a classic tree-lined course with all the trappings of a tough, old-fashioned U.S. Open. The prize money is $12 million, the largest in the world for a standalone women's event, with $2.4 million to the winner.

The last time the U.S. Women's Open came to Lancaster, it set an attendance record of 135,000 spectators. The same is expected this week at the championship that long has been considered the biggest on the LPGA schedule.

It's a big opportunity for Korda, and for women's golf.

It took her five-tournament winning streak, which Rose Zhang ended at the Cognizant Founders Cup, to bring the LPGA attention this year.

Even so, it has lagged behind at a time when women's sports are surging.

Leading the way at the moment is Caitlin Clark, from her record-setting college career at Iowa to her debut in the WNBA that has led to spikes in ticket prices and attendance. Soccer and tennis remain more popular than golf, particularly in America.

Never mind that the LPGA Tour has more history and offers more money. The LPGA Tour dates to 1950 and has never received — nor asked for — help from the PGA Tour. Ty Votaw, the LPGA commissioner from two decades ago, once spoke to the LPGA's independence by saying, “If you take the NBA out of WNBA, you'd have the ABL.”

The American Basketball League launched in the mid-1990s right before the WNBA, and it folded in two years.

LPGA prize money this year tops $100 million. Last year, 28 players earned at least $1 million.

Mollie Marcoux Samaan, the LPGA commissioner, points to increasing consumption metrics from spectators to page views to television. She sees progress, and points to more energy and more volume being critical for that moment when women's golf reaches the forefront of the conversation.

Korda would seem to shoulder the bulk of that burden. She prefers to do that with her clubs.

She has been known to duck media opportunities that could help the greater good of the LPGA. One of those moments was at the Women's British Open in 2021 when she declined a news conference. It was her first appearance since winning the Olympic gold medal.

“I think our responsibility is to go out and play golf, to hopefully put on a show for everyone, and to go out there and perform our best,” Korda said. “Hopefully, that brings in the audience. I know there's expectations from players, and I think that our No. 1 priority should be to go out there, enjoy our time on the golf course, and grow the game playing good golf.”

As for expectations of her role as the LPGA's biggest star, Korda said the lesson was to be honest with herself and those around her, to not try to be someone she isn't.

A 13-year-old youth reporter asked Korda what she would say to her 13-year-old self.

“There's going to be expectations from the people around you, and the best thing you can ever do is stay true to yourself, stay your course,” Korda said.

“I just try to be very, very pure and very, very honest with everyone around me,” she said. “And I hope that they see that I am proud of the person that I am at the end of the day. And that is how I hope that I grow the game.”

Winning never hurts, and Korda has certainly done her share. She already has six wins this year, and it's not even June.

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