BRADENTON, Fla. — It’s hard to imagine the LPGA getting off to a better start than its opening fortnight in Florida. Lydia Ko, of course, won the season-opening Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions at her home course, Lake Nona Golf & Country Club, putting to bed the worst year of her career in 2023.
One week later, Nelly Korda won 15 minutes from her parents’ home in Bradenton, Florida, in front of a hometown crowd at the LPGA Drive On Championship. Korda staged a brilliant late-round comeback to beat Ko in a two-hole playoff, denying the Kiwi the 27th and final point needed to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame.
It was an electric finish, even if it did overlap the NFL playoffs.
Here are five takeaways from the day:
Korda's hometown rally
Korda entered the final round at Bradenton Country Club with a four-stroke lead and found herself down three strokes to Ko with two holes to play.
Korda, who hadn’t made a birdie all day, stepped up to the par-5 17th and eagled it for a second day in a row, hitting 3-wood, 3-wood and then draining a 20-footer. She then nearly holed her approach on the 18th for eagle, finishing off regulation with a tap-in birdie to force a playoff. Korda played the 17th and 18th holes 8 under for the week, picking up more than seven strokes on the field on those two holes alone.
“On the last hole, I kind of floated my … I actually wanted to hit more of a penetrating 7-iron and I floated it a tiny bit,” said Korda, “and that’s why it came up a little bit short. Sometimes you just need to get lucky, and I think that’s just the golf gods gave me a little present there.”
Ko entered the final round four strokes back of Korda and yet stepped on the 18th tee Sunday with a three-stroke lead after an eagle of her own on the 17th.
Ko had 218 yards to the flag and 190 to the front of the green. She put a 3-hybrid in the bag this week, taking out a 5-wood. After she hit her second shot on the 17th to within kick-in range, Ko told her caddie that the switch was worth it, even if it was only for that one shot.
“I miss-hit it a little bit,” she said. “Hit it solid enough that it carried the water and ended up being a tap-in.”
Ko plans to pack as much in as she can early in the season to take more time off around the Olympics.
Korda collected her ninth career LPGA title since 2018. Only Jin Young Ko has won more on tour in the last six years with 14 victories. Brooke Henderson (8) and Minjee Lee (7) round out the top four.
Ko collected her 20th career title the week prior.
Perhaps the biggest downside to this torrid start is that a mini offseason follows.
The tour takes off three weeks before returning to action in Thailand. Ko is off for the next month, playing next on tour in Sinagpore and China. She won’t defend her title at the Saudi Ladies International next month on the LET.
“I’m driving to Lake Nona right now,” said Ko, “and then I’ll be there, and I know some of the players are there so we already have dinner plans for Tuesday.
“It will be nice to have some down time. I’ve got four weeks off until Singapore, so just get plenty of rest but also do some work because I felt like the two weeks before leading up to Hilton was a little short.”
Korda meanwhile headed to Prague on Monday to visit her grandparents and will take a seven-week break, skipping all of the Asian swing. She’s the only active LPGA player who competed in the PNC Championship in late December, making her offseason exceptionally short.
“It’s tough when I go during the season. I only go for a week, let’s say just before Evian or just before British. And I’m practicing, not really spending much time with them.
“So I definitely wanted to take some time out of my schedule to go and spend some time with them.”
Korda and Ko combined for zero official LPGA victories in 2023. The LPGA had a record number of first-time winners (13) in 2023, but it’s a tour that’s desperate for stars.
With the former phenom Ko on the doorstep of the Hall of Fame and the hometown hero trying to unseat her, the Drive On produced one of the most gripping finishes in recent memory. Even with football dominating the sports landscape on Sunday, social media lit up as Ko and Korda came down the stretch.
Not to mention the scene on the ground, with packed grandstands and a Bradenton Country Club membership that bought in.
Hopefully the tour finds a title sponsor to bring this home run of a tournament back in 2025.