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Bradenton’s Nelly and Jessica Korda excited about first Pelican Women’s Championship together

Nelly Korda had to pull out of last year’s inaugural LPGA tournament in Belleair due to a back injury.
Sisters Nelly, left, and Jessica Korda, right, line up shots during the LPGA Pelican Women's Championship pro-am Wednesday at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair.
Sisters Nelly, left, and Jessica Korda, right, line up shots during the LPGA Pelican Women's Championship pro-am Wednesday at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
Published Nov. 10
Updated Nov. 10

BELLEAIR — Jessica Korda and her younger sister, Nelly, have never been true rivals on the golf course.

The sisters, both ranked among the top 21 in the world, are competitive and want to win every tournament they enter. But it has never been about besting each other. It’s about beating the course.

“We’re not just playing against each other. You’re playing against (a maximum of) 144 other girls,” Nelly said. “At the end of the day, you’re playing against a golf course. It’s not like tennis, where it’s 1-on-1.”

Nelly Korda hits a drive during the Pelican Women's Championship pro-am Wednesday at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair.
Nelly Korda hits a drive during the Pelican Women's Championship pro-am Wednesday at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

The sisters will take that mentality into the LPGA Tour’s Pelican Women’s Championship, which begins today. They will be among 108 players competing at the Pelican Golf Club in Belleair.

The Bradenton natives are looking forward to competing in front of family and friends. Nelly missed last year’s inaugural tournament because of a back injury.

“We love it whenever our parents are out and … we can drive to events,” Nelly said Tuesday. “Just gives it a whole different excitement.”

Nelly, 23, is having the most successful year of her career. She has three wins on the tour, including a major, the Women’s PGA Championship; she won the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics; and this week she moved to No. 1 in the world rankings.

Jessica, 28, has one win this year, in the season-opening Tournament of Champions, and one each second- and third-place finish. She tied for 15th at the Olympics and is 21st in the world rankings.

She said the best part of her time in Tokyo was getting to watch Nelly win.

“That moment when she steps on the podium and receives her gold medal and the national anthem was playing, that was just — it was just incredible,” Jessica said. “I was speechless. I really was. I tried to get a ‘Whoo!’ out, and my voice cracked.

“But (in) that moment, you realize it was different than any other tournament. She had just won (the Women’s PGA Championship), winning a major, and that was a totally different emotional response to this.”

Nelly Korda, of the United States, bites the gold medal she won in the women's golf event at the 2020 Summer Olympics in August at the Kasumigaseki Country Club in Kawagoe, Japan.
Nelly Korda, of the United States, bites the gold medal she won in the women's golf event at the 2020 Summer Olympics in August at the Kasumigaseki Country Club in Kawagoe, Japan. [ MATT YORK | AP ]

Jessica started learning golf at age 5. Her father, Petr, took up the sport after retiring from a professional tennis career that included the Australian Open title in 1998 and a runnerup finish at the 1992 French Open. As soon as Nelly could walk and pick up a club, she jumped at the chance to join them.

“It was something we could all do together,” Nelly said. “I was that annoying little sister that had to do everything big sister did.”

Jessica Korda tees off during the Pelican Women's Championship official pro-am Wednesday at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair.
Jessica Korda tees off during the Pelican Women's Championship official pro-am Wednesday at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

The sisters’ connection helps get them through the lonely parts of a sport in which it’s easy to feel isolated without teammates. They seek out each other’s company at events, whether traveling, eating their meals or when things go sideways on the course.

“I always say that we’re sisters by birth but we’re best friends by choice,” Jessica said. “We kind of still choose each other, which is nice, because we don’t have to.”

The two have a combined 12 career victories (six each) and 80 top-10 finishes. Jessica holds the edge with 44.

Both said they still have “big goals” ahead.

Related: New tournament director brings PGA lessons to Pelican Women’s Championship

Mostly, they want to make a lasting impact on the game. Not with wins, trophies or entrance into the LPGA Hall of Fame. They want to do it by showing others that golf can — and should be — enjoyed.

“If we could do something to be remembered for and … grow the game of golf for the next generation and leave it in a better spot than when we found it, that’s huge for us,” Jessica said. “(People) see how much fun we have with it.

“That’s what I always hoped for, people or kids to see that it is a game, it is fun. Obviously, winning is obviously fun, but when you’re not winning, you can still have fun doing it.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

LPGA Pelican Women’s Championship

When: Thursday-Sunday

Where: Pelican Golf Club, Belleair

Purse: $1.75 million

History: Sei Young Kim won the inaugural tournament last year.

Players to watch: World No. 1 Nelly Korda, Jin Young Ko (2), Sei Young Kim (4), Lydia Ko(5), Yuka Saso (6), Nasa Hataoka (8), Brooke Henderson (10), Danielle Kang (11), Patty Tavatanakit (12), Lexi Thompson (13).

Coverage: Live, 10 a.m. Thursday-Friday, Golf Channel. Live stream, 1-4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, nbcsports.com. Taped, 7:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Golf Channel.

Tickets: pelicanlpga.com/tickets