Nelly Korda is poised to try to become the next teen winner in LPGA history.
With a 5-under-par 66, Korda grabbed the lead Saturday at the Marathon Classic.
If Korda is going to become the ninth different player to win an LPGA event at age 18 or younger, she will have to hold off a formidable legion of challengers stacked up behind her.
At 15 under overall, Korda is two shots ahead of In-Kyung Kim (68) and three ahead of a pack of six players that includes reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion Sung Hyun Park (67), Lexi Thompson (69) and Gerina Piller (70).
Two other rookies, India’s Aditi Ashok (68) and Taiwan’s Peiyun Chien (69), are also three back, as is American Sandra Changkija (65).
Korda will be 18 years, 11 months and 25 days old on Sunday.
Only Lydia Ko, Lexi Thompson, Brooke Henderson, Marlene Hagge, Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Jessica Korda and Minjee Lee won events at a younger age.
“There are so many good young players out here on tour that I don’t even feel like I’m 18, truthfully,” Korda said. “But it’s really cool, and I’m definitely excited for tomorrow.”
Notably, Nelly is the younger sister of Jessica, 24, who was 18 years, 11 months and 16 days old when she won the Women’s Australian Open.
They are the daughters of Petr Korda and Regina Rajchrtova, former tennis stars. Petr won the ’98 Australian Open and Regina was among the top 25 in the world in her prime.
Jessica isn’t in the field this week, but Nelly was asked what advice her sister might offer.
“She’ll probably just be like, `Breathe a lot and go to sleep,’” Nelly said.
U.S. Solheim Cup captain Juli Inkster seemed to foresee something big ahead for Korda. Though Nelly is only 31st on the U.S. Solheim Cup points list, Inkster has been focusing hard on Nelly as a potential captain’s pick.
“I like her makeup,” Inkster said. “I like her fire.”
The LPGA is looking at the possibility of back-to-back rookie winners. Park is also an LPGA rookie, though she was already an established Korean LPGA Tour star when she joined the American tour this year.
“I’ve learned a lot my rookie year out here,” Korda said. “It’s definitely to stay patient and really to take it shot by shot. I’ve been in a couple positions where I’ve been on top of the leaderboard, and I just really got ahead of myself, started thinking too far ahead, and I just told myself I need to calm down, take it shot by shot, breathe a little bit more.”
Korda closed her round Saturday with back-to-back birdies. In 14 starts this year, Korda has recorded two top-10 finishes. Her best finish was a tie for fifth at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic in the season opener.
Thompson grew up playing a lot of junior golf with Jessica Korda. She knows the talent in the Korda family.
“I might have played with Nelly once or twice, but I’ve always known that she’s a great player, has a lot of talent, long off the tee, and overall just a very solid player,” Thompson said. “It’s going to take a low one tomorrow to beat her, and there’s a lot of great players around her. It’s going to take a lot of birdies, though.”
Piller also is impressed with Korda.
“She’s good,” Piller said. “Leading an LPGA tournament your rookie season, that’s pretty impressive. She’s got a really good game. Her and her sister both have really good swings. The future is looking bright for American golf.”