Bradenton’s Nelly Korda doesn’t celebrate victories or stay in the moment. She sets her sights on the next tournament and the next golf shot.
That mental approach paid immense dividends this past weekend at the LPGA Symetra Tour’s Sioux Falls GreatLIFE Challenge in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Korda, who turned 18 earlier this season, fired a final-round 66 for a three-shot victory and $31,500 in first-place money.
“I’m not going to celebrate until I get home and I’m with my entire family, because I’m already in tournament mode again,” Korda said. “... I’m not even trying to think about last week. I’m just not trying to think past my first two shots this week.”
To get there, Korda spent three days prior to the Sioux Falls event with golf coach David Whelan at the Ritz-Carlton Members Golf Club in East Manatee County.
Whelan, who previously was IMG Academy’s golf director, teaches both Nelly Korda and her older sister, Jessica. The elder Korda is on the LPGA Tour.
Both Jessica and Whelan have imparted invaluable wisdom to Nelly. Jessica’s offered tips on what professional golf would be like, which meant listening to her own body and figuring out what is best for herself. And Whelan’s advice is steeped in the technical aspect, evolving Nelly into an all-around player with a splendid short game to endure professional golf’s rigors.
But just before Korda left for Sioux Falls, Whelan took away the distractions of what to do about the looming LPGA Tour Qualifying School by refocusing on the original goal to this season: secure a top 10 money list spot and automatically earn a 2017 LPGA Tour card.
“I said, ‘I don’t want you to think past the first tee shot next week,’” Whelan said. “I said, ‘Don’t get ahead of yourself, where you need to be, where you are.’ I said, ‘You’re brand new in the game. ... You’re in a great place. You’ve put in the groundwork. A win will probably see you over the line, probably. Next week will be a great time to do it.’”
In South Dakota, Korda achieved that victory to boost her winnings on the year. She fired four straight sub-70 rounds, finishing with a 14-under par 270 for the biggest payday of her pro career.
It’s vaulted her to No. 11 on the Symetra Tour’s money list. She’s about $1,600 behind 10th place, which belongs to former Guardian Retirement Championship — the annual tour stop at Manatee County’s Sara Bay Country Club — winner Marissa Steen.
“Playing very smart and just staying calm on the golf course was definitely a big key to the win,” Korda said. “I was putting really well. I don’t know, everything kind of clicked that week. I was extremely happy.”
There are five tournaments remaining on the Symetra Tour slate, and Korda isn’t wasting any time to focus on the next event and the next shot.
Leaving Sioux Falls on Monday, she hopped in a car with fellow Symetra Tour players Carlie Yadloczky and Ani Gulugian for a nine-hour ride to this week’s tournament stop in Garden City, Kan.
“It drains you mentally just not doing anything, just sitting in a car it makes you really tired,” Korda said. “... It kind of went by fast when you’re with friends and you have someone to talk to.”
This year’s schedule is something Korda’s adjusted herself to, going from six tournaments a year on the junior circuit to a 22-event schedule as a Symetra Tour rookie.
It’s added up to more than $57,000 in earnings, a jump of 16 places in the money list after a breakthrough victory and a scoring average of 71.9 so far.
There are five tournaments remaining, which culminates with the Symetra Tour Championship in Daytona Beach on Oct. 13-16.
“All it is, is time management and knowing your own body,” Korda said. “That’s kind of what this year is all about for me is trying to figure out, obviously to get into the top 10 and to play my best golf, but also to kind of figure out what life on tour is like.”
Right now, that life is going well.