BRADENTON, Fla. — Benton McDede crawled for the first time Saturday morning at Nelly Korda’s house. The McDede family, Korda’s caddie Jason and his wife, LPGA player Caroline Masson and their nine-month-old son, are houseguests this week along with Korda’s close friend Megan Khang.
“Milestones at my house,” said Korda, beaming.
Home events are rare for players on the LPGA, and Korda is experiencing it for the first time this week at the LPGA Drive On Championship at Bradenton Country Club where she has led all three rounds. The 25-year-old Korda, who was born down the street from the club, has asked fellow players for their tickets all week to accommodate the requests she’s received.
Korda even spotted the wife of her first coach tending the ropes as a volunteer on Friday.
“I was losing teeth during our practice sessions,” she said of how far they go back.
LPGA Drive On: Photos
An eight-time winner on the LPGA and Olympic gold medalist, Korda last won on tour in November 2022. She got off to a slow start on Saturday, missing a string of birdie putts inside 10 feet in gusty winds on demanding Donald Ross greens. While her parents live a mere 15 minutes away (Korda is about 40 minutes away), she hasn’t played too much golf at the 100-year-old club, outside of the occasional U.S. Women’s Open qualifier.
A couple of snap hooks on Nos. 7 and 8 led to bogeys, and Korda found herself down one stroke to Lydia Ko as she made the turn. But the hometown favorite finished in a flurry, making eagle on the penultimate par-5 with a hole-out from a greenside bunker and then birdieing the last to shoot 3-under 68 and bolt to a four-stroke lead at 13 under over Ko, Khang and Japan’s Ayaka Furue.
With Korda, Furue and Khang going off in the final group on Sunday, Khang jokingly wondered whether Korda would even talk to her tonight.
“Maybe I’ll just leave her stuff outside the door today,” said Korda, smiling. “Find yourself a new place. I’m just kidding.”
Nelly Korda of the United States walks up to the 13th green during the third round of the LPGA Drive On Championship at Bradenton Country Club on January 27, 2024 in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
Ko, 26, won last week’s season-opening Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions after enduring her worst season on tour in 2023 and needs only one more point to reach the 27 required to enter the LPGA Hall of Fame. Ko said she’s actually more comfortable being one point away than she was two points.
“I think the two is like you’re there, but you’re kind of not there,” she said. “It’s like two wins and you’re like, man, it’s hard enough just winning one, or a major and especially because I haven’t really been in contention in majors in a really long time.”
Should Ko pull out the victory on another windy day along Florida’s Gulf Coast, she’d become the youngest player to be induced into the LPGA Hall of Fame under its current criteria at 26 years, 9 months and 4 days.
Lydia Ko of New Zealand plays a shot from a bunker on the 13th hole during the third round of the LPGA Drive On Championship at Bradenton Country Club on January 27, 2024 in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
Before March of 2022, players had to be active on the LPGA for 10 years prior to induction. Karrie Webb reached the 27-point threshold at age 25 with her victory at the 2000 U.S. Women’s Open but did not reach the 10-year requirement until age 30 in 2005. Inbee Park reached 27 points at age 27 when she won the Glenna Collett Vare Trophy in 2015, but did not reach the 10-year requirement until the following year.
Ko would be the 25th player inducted into the Hall of Fame based on playing criteria and the 35th overall. Nine women were inducted as honorary members (eight LPGA founders and beloved entertainer Dinah Shore).
“I honestly didn’t ever imagine that I would be one of the names that would be in the Hall of Fame,” said Ko, who first won on the LPGA at age 15. “I always thought that was out of my reach. To have that opportunity is really awesome.”
While Ko chases her place in golf history, Korda looks to make a hometown proud. The Shake Pit, a nearby restaurant that’s been around since 1959, has a simple message on its marquee sign: “LPGA Drive On Tournament. Korda Leads.”
No need for an update.