A Change in Putters - and Mindset - and Korda is at home at Pelican Again

A Change in Putters - and Mindset - and Korda is at home at Pelican Again

By Jeff Babineau


BELLEAIR, Fla. – Nelly Korda stood over her golf ball on the first green of the recent BMW Ladies Championship in South Korea and everything seemed, well, different. New putter. New “old” conventional putting grip. New putting coach. New plan.


Mainly, a new start. Perhaps it will lead to that little spark that she has been seeking to nudge her game to winning ways again.


“I was like, ‘Okay, here we go ...,’” Korda said, recalling the scene with a laugh.


Korda, a former World No. 1 now ranked sixth in the Rolex Rankings, arrives to the LPGA’s penultimate event of 2023, The Annika driven by Gainbridge at Pelican, much the way she did a year ago, searching for her first LPGA victory of the season. That’s a head-scratcher in itself.

This tournament doesn’t conjure just any memories for Korda. It fills her with great ones. Two trips, two titles. Home-state success. Beginning Thursday, she will be chasing a slice of history, trying to become the first person since South Korea’s legendary Inbee Park (2013-2015 KPMG Women’s PGA) to win the same LPGA event three consecutive times.


Easily overlooked is the fact that Korda is only 25 years old, given all she has accomplished. Two years ago she had about as good a season as a player could have. She won four times on the LPGA, including her first major (KPMG Women’s PGA at Atlanta Athletic Club). She rose to No. 1 in the world on top of it. And then she added Olympic Gold in Tokyo. And though her play has been just fine of late, it just isn’t the usual Nelly Korda sort of stuff, the type of dominating play that usually leads to trophies and 18th green winner’s speeches.


So she decided she would get “organized” with her putting. Eric Dietrich, based in Palm Beach Gardens, who was good enough to play PGA Tour events and now instructs, is helping her on the greens. Korda went back to a conventional grip after being left-hand-low for a long stretch. She switched into a Scotty Cameron P5 GSS tour prototype putter, which is a mallet. That’s a new look for her – though she had to experiment with a different mallet (Scotty Cameron Phantom X 7.2) at the Solheim Cup.


Lest you think she is out to reinvent things, she is not. She has been T16 or better in six of her last seven starts. She simply senses that things could be tidier on the greens, and for the first time in her seven pro seasons, she devised a better plan.


“I haven't been putting bad,” said Korda, who currently ranks 17th in the category on the LPGA. “I've been in contention a bunch this year. It's just I want to improve. I want to improve in every part of my game, and I just thought this was a necessary change to that.


“I just have a plan now, or I have tendencies that I know about that I can always go into a drill and kind of work on those tendencies. Where before, I was kind of ‘blind’ going to a putting green. I did it myself.”


A year ago, a closing 64 at Pelican Golf Club got the job done, delivering her eighth LPGA victory. A year prior, Korda had prevailed in a playoff that included Lexi Thompson, Sei Young Kim and Lydia Ko.


Korda finds it difficult to pinpoint why the magic happens here, though there certainly are good theories. It’s Florida, and she lives just down the coast in Bradenton. So the grasses, grain and tightness of the lies are familiar to her. She enjoys the layout at Pelican, a course renovated by Beau Welling before the LPGA awarded the facility a tour event three years ago. Her parents, two former tennis standouts, are usually here to watch, which always seems to give her a nice lift. This week, her older sister Jess, currently on the LPGA sidelines (she is pregnant with her first child) is expected out to watch.


Thompson twice has been a runner-up at Pelican. Stacy Lewis, the U.S. Solheim Cup captain in 2023 and 2024, looks at two of her standout players and knows it is not some random coincidence.


“Well, Bermudagrass, number one,” Lewis said on Wednesday after the pro-am. “Learned that from Solheim (in Spain). I think it's the length of the golf course more than anything, because there are some holes that -- especially when it's windy, that are into the wind that are very long that they can take advantage of and carry some cross bunkers and things like that.


“And also,” Lewis adds, “(it is) the height that they hit it. They hit it high, which on these elevated greens you wouldn't think is good in the wind, but on this golf course, it is good.”


Korda spent Wednesday morning in the pro-am with a pretty good “amateur” alongside in her group – she played the first nine holes with the tournament’s namesake. Sorenstam won 72 times on the LPGA, and collected 10 majors, and knows the demands of being a star on this tour. It was a nice mix to see the two interacting on Wednesday, enjoying each other’s shots, conversing, taking time to stop and sign autographs for appreciative fans.


“If you have a legend like Annika, her name is on the title of the tournament, so having her out here, just the presence of her, is really, really neat and cool,” Korda said. “I think it just brings a little extra to an amazing event.”


Thursday, Nelly Korda resumes pursuit of trying to become a legend in her own right. And this time, she has a better plan to get there.

November 8, 2023
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