The day Nelly Korda reminded us she’s human

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LANCASTER, Pa. — Standing on the fringe of Lancaster Country Club’s 9th green, moments after stroking her final putt of the day, Nelly Korda opened her purple scorecard holder, looked down, and sighed so deeply that the expansion of her ribcage was visible from steps away.

Her shoulders lifted. Then they sank. A big, fat first-round 80 at the U.S. Women’s Open stared back up at her, the sight of her septuple bogey 10 early in the round likely sending shivers up her spine once again.

The world No.1 did not look like herself Thursday. She’s won six tournaments in seven starts on the LPGA Tour this season, including the first major, the Chevron Championship. She managed to raise trophies with her B game. But Korda still crumbled in the face of this U.S. Open test. She didn’t have it. It’ll take an all-time second round on a tough setup to even think about making the cut.

“I’m human,” Korda said after signing for her 10-over-par score. “I’m going to have bad days. I played some really solid golf up to this point. Today was just a bad day. That’s all I can say.”

There wasn’t much more to it than that. Korda’s game escaped her on a golf course that demands precision and control. It started after her third tee shot of the day, on the downhill 161-yard par-3 12th, which one player described as a hole that gives you “nowhere to miss.” Korda learned that the hard way.

After waiting on the tee box for more than 25 minutes, Korda’s group had seen it all. Ingrid Lindblad, the No. 1 amateur in the world, dumped one into the creek short of the green. Gaby Lopez caught a gust of wind so strong that her ball ended up short of the same hazard. Once the green had finally cleared, Korda decided to use the information she’d collected during the excruciatingly long delay. She clubbed up, even making sure to tee her ball a club length behind the markers for good measure, and blasted a 6-iron into the back bunker. The ball was safe. But not for long.

With a leaf inconveniently nestled beneath her ball in the sand, Korda’s shot never had a chance of coming to a halt on the slick back-to-front sloping putting surface. Her ball plunged into the water. She took a drop on the opposite side of the meandering creek. One penalty shot. She chipped, and her ball rolled back into the water — again. Two penalty shots. Another drop. Another chip in the creek. Three penalty shots. With her third chip, she finally went long of the cup.

Two putts. A 10 on the scorecard.

Korda was gasping for air the rest of the day. Pars felt like small victories. The sloppy mistakes continued to sting, and her pace of play was noticeably quicker.

“I just didn’t want to shoot 80, and I just kept making bogeys,” Korda said, suddenly remembering her recent history at this championship. “My last two rounds in the U.S. Women’s Open have not been good. I ended Sunday at Pebble I think shooting 81, and then today I shot 80.”

Korda’s front-nine total climbed so high that the standard bearer walking with her group struggled to find the right number cards to represent her score next to her name, momentarily leaving the spot blank, to the confusion of many spectators. She finished her first nine with a 10-over 45.

Albeit puzzled by Korda’s play — and sometimes silent as she let her driver plummet to the ground after off-line tee shots — those same spectators never left. They came out in droves Thursday morning to watch the world No. 1 walk the narrow fairways at Lancaster, a crowd befitting her new status in the game but one that hasn’t always been the case because of venue or other external factors. After getting wind of her septuple bogey, one local mother and daughter rushed to the course, hoping to get a glimpse of Korda before she potentially missed the weekend.

Korda’s robust gallery was by far the largest of the morning wave, and its members were just as content clapping in awe of her brilliance as they were offering her words of encouragement as she somehow salvaged a back-nine 35 with three birdies.


Nelly Korda’s first-round 80 takes her out of contention at the U.S. Women’s Open. (John Jones / USA Today Sports)

The world No. 1’s battle at Lancaster on Thursday was as relatable as it gets. This game is fickle. It’s maddening. Sometimes it makes no sense. Sometimes it can feel like a breeze. And no one has understood the latter better than Korda, who’s been living at the top of the leaderboard for the better part of three months. But she’s also aware that in this sport, that feeling doesn’t last forever — not even for the best player in the world.

Tuesday, Korda spoke of the phenomenon, almost foreshadowing the carnage that would ensue two days later. “I think that’s what makes this game so great. You can be on top of the world the first two days, and then you wake up and you’re like, what am I doing right now? Why am I hitting it sideways? And you have no idea what’s going on,” Korda said. “It’s funny, golf is such a hard game.”

After signing her scorecard, answering exactly three questions about her round in the interview room, and congregating with her team behind the clubhouse, Korda headed back to the range. When she got to her spot at the leftmost edge of the hitting area, she didn’t rush to grab a club or pause to scroll through missed messages on her phone. She sat on the turf, legs crossed over one another. Korda remained still for several moments, alone.

She just needed a second.

(Top photo: Patrick Smith / Getty Images)





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