Nelly Korda earned her first professional victory and moved to the cusp of earning her LPGA Tour card on Sunday in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Korda, a resident of Bradenton, shot a 5-under 66 to finish at 14-under 270 and claim a three-shot victory at the Symetra Tour’s Sioux Falls GreatLife Challenge at Willow Run Golf Club.
“I don’t even have words,” Korda said. “To have my first professional win out here is just amazing. The atmosphere out there today was amazing. I could not have asked for a better day or a better week.”
Korda birdied three of her first five holes, highlighted by a chip-in from 25 feet on the par-4 third hole, to erase the one-shot deficit she entered the day with.
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“The chip-in was kind of an awkward stance,” Korda said. “It was downwind and downhill, and it was a very delicate shot. I told myself, ‘you’ve had this putt a couple of times, you know how it turns — just execute it; pick your target, hit it and move on.’ I was just going for par and then it rolled in. It was definitely a big boost.”
Third-round leader Wichanee Meechai eagled the par-5 second hole. However, Korda drew even with a birdie on the par-5 seventh to go to 12 under, and Meechai responded with bogeys on the eighth and the par-5 10th. Once Meechai fell off the pace, Korda wasn’t challenged, finishing her round with six birdies and one bogey despite hitting 12 of 18 greens in regulation.
“I putted really well,” Korda said. “Every aspect of my game was really good. If I hit a couple of loose shots, I knew I could get up and down. I was really comfortable with my short game and my putting. Everything really clicked this week.”
She arrived at the final hole with a four-shot lead.
“Once I hit my approach shot into the green, I got a little bit emotional walking up, but I told myself to come home safe, make this par and then you can celebrate,” Korda said.
American Ally McDonald finished tied for third after shooting a 64, but she finished five shots behind — as did Sweden’s Madelene Sagstrom, the tour’s leading money winner, who closed her day with 12 consecutive pars for an even-par 71.
In addition to the trophy, Korda pocketed the winner’s check of $31,500. That boosted her season total to $57,316, which moved her from 27th to 11th on the money list. The top-10 finishers on the money list automatically earn their LPGA cards for 2017. There are five events remaining on the Symetra Tour schedule: two in Garden City, Kansas, the next two weeks; El Dorado, Ark.; Longwood, Fla.; and the tour championship event at Daytona Beach. With work still to do, Korda has little time to celebrate.
“I think I’ll celebrate when I get home in three weeks after Garden City,” Korda said. “That’s when I’ll be with my entire family.”
Korda shot rounds of 68, 67 and 69 to put her in position entering the final round of the second-year event. She finished the tournament with 20 birdies. During the final 36 holes, she had just two bogeys.
The 18-year-old had been getting closer to her breakthrough win throughout the summer. After turning pro in February, she missed the cut in two of her first five events and finished no better than a tie for 18th in her first seven events. She earned her first top-10 finish in mid-June at the Four Winds Invitational in South Bend, Ind. Though she missed the cut in her next event the following week, she had three top-10s and a tie for 16th in the five subsequent events leading into Sioux Falls.
Korda’s victory comes in her 15th pro event. Sioux Falls also represents her fifth top-10 finish.
Mark L. Lawrence: 941-745-7052, @BradentonSE