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Golf Has Two Dominant Forces in Scheffler & Korda. It Didn't Happen Overnight.
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By Associated Press
Published 3 weeks ago on
April 24, 2024

Golf analysis on the rise of dominant forces Scottie Scheffler (right) and Nelly Korda in the sport. A look at their recent successes and the traits that set them apart. (AP/Chris Carlson)

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HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — Golf went a decade without being able to identify a dominant player. And then within the last month, the sport suddenly has two of them.

 

Doug Ferguson

AP Golf Writer

Scottie Scheffler won his first PGA Tour event in the Phoenix Open two years ago and now he has 10 tour titles, two of them at the Masters.

Not only is he the No. 1 player in the world, he has double the average points of the next player, Rory McIlroy. That hasn’t happened since Tiger Woods doubled the world ranking lead over Phil Mickelson toward the end of 2009.

Nelly Korda went through 2023 without winning on the LPGA Tour — her only title was the Aramco Series in London on the Ladies European Tour — and ended the year at No. 5 in the women’s world ranking. Now she is in the LPGA record book with five straight victories and is close to having double the points average of Lilia Vu, who won two majors last year.

It all seems to have happened so quickly, except that it really hasn’t.

Korda’s Rise to Stardom

Korda possesses all the traits of a star.

She has the athletic genes — an older sister (Jessica) on the LPGA Tour, a younger brother (Sebastian) who is No. 26 in the world in tennis, a father (Petr) who won his lone Grand Slam event in tennis at the 1998 Australian Open.

Her swing is so pure that even the late Mickey Wright, regarded as the greatest LPGA player, took notice in a 2017 Golf Digest interview. That was a year before Korda won the first of her 13 LPGA titles.

Scheffler’s Dominance

Korda first rose to No. 1 when she captured the Women’s PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club in 2021, and then won the Olympic gold medal in Japan. What she lost was momentum — surgery for a blood clot in her left arm that cost her four months in 2022, and then a back injury in the late spring of 2023 that cost her a month.

She exudes a cool demeanor, ruthless at times, and her quiet toughness is a good fit with swing coach Jamie Mulligan. He says Korda has “shooter’s adrenaline,” a basketball reference.

“If the mind is quiet, even if your heart is going, you can get yourself in the right spot,” Mulligan said.

Looking Ahead

Now she is fully fit and listening to her body. Korda won before a home crowd in Bradenton, Florida, skipped the entire Asia swing, returned after seven weeks off and won four in a row.

Her victory at the Chevron Championship, her fifth straight win to tie the LPGA record, never looked in doubt. It was surprising to hear Korda talk about the grind, her nerves and that she felt “sick to my stomach.” No telling how the rest of tour must feel.

“I think there’s a key in the simplicity that I have when I play,” Korda said. “I honestly just take it a shot at a time, and we pick a game plan when we get to the golf course and we work and we stay in our own little bubble. It’s been working so far.”

That’s how Scheffler makes it look.

He picks a target. He swings the club. It goes where he’s looking.

No one is better from tee to green, which can make his putting seem worse than it really is. He got into some bad habits last year that made the putter look like a piece of Kryptonite at the end of a shaft. That has been sorted out. And that’s frightening for the rest of golf.

When he polished off his latest clinic Monday morning in the rain-delayed RBC Heritage, Scheffler was asked about the worst shot he hit in the final round.

It stumped him. Scheffler finally settled on a 3-wood he tugged off the tee on the eighth hole. It just trickled into the left rough.

But that was the point of the question. He never seems to miss.

“I didn’t know what you were getting at there,” he said with a laugh. “And I was thinking through my shots and I was like … yeah, I felt like I hit a lot of quality shots, and the ball was coming out of the face. It seemed like if a shot didn’t end up where I wanted it to, it was probably just a little gust of wind.”

Korda and Scheffler will disappear now for a few weeks.

Korda withdrew from the JM Eagle LA Championship on Monday — probably a smart move for her and the long year ahead, brutal for the LPGA just when it was poised to create room on the Nelly bandwagon — and is not expected back until May 9 for the Cognizant Founders Cup in New Jersey.

Scheffler said he will not be back until the PGA Championship on May 16-19. His wife, Meredith, is expecting to give birth to their first child by the end of the month.

Scheffler is approaching a full year at No. 1 in the world, a rarity in men’s golf. Dustin Johnson (64 weeks) and McIlroy (54 weeks) are the only ones to have done that post-Woods. After that first victory, it took Scheffler only 50 tournaments to get the next nine.

This form didn’t just show up overnight. It just seems that way because of his putting funk.

“I was No. 1 in the world for a long time last year,” Scheffler said. “But I was never answering questions like, ‘Hey, you’ve been playing so great.’ It was more like, ‘Hey, you’ve been playing great, BUT you’ve been doing this one thing really, really bad.’”

He laughed, because laughter comes easily to Scheffler. So does winning.

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