124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2

KPMG Women's PGA Championship

Nelly Korda set to return from month-long injury-related break: 'I wouldn't be playing if I didn't feel 100 percent'


Sarah Stier

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — For a 24-year-old in the prime of her career, Nelly Korda has already dealt with one-too-many health scares. One was of the downright frightening variety, when Korda missed time early last season due to a blood clot in her arm. The other was of the typical golf injury variety: an ailing lower back that forced her to miss the last five weeks on the LPGA tour.

Fortunately, the former issue is behind her, but the latter is one that's caused problems before.

"Typically, that's kind of what my back injury is," Korda said Tuesday at Baltusrol Golf Club, site of this week's KPMG Women's PGA Championship. "It's just low back, yeah. There's a lot of torque in the golf swing, so I feel like I'm not the only golfer that kind of struggles with the low back."

Korda first felt discomfort at the 2020 Women's PGA at Aronimink, where, during the first round, a failed attempt at cracking her back caused a spasm. She promptly withdrew, then took two months off before returning at the U.S. Women's Open.

In the two-and-a-half years since, Korda has played the best golf of her still nascent career. She broke out in 2021 with four victories, including the Women's PGA at Atlanta Athletic Club, her first major. While she only had one win in 2022, she collected seven top-10 finishes in her other 14 starts. The early portion of 2023 had been similarly kind, with Korda finishing T-6 or better in six of her first seven tournaments.

The first sign something was off came at the Cognizant Founders Cup in early May, coincidentally also held in New Jersey at Upper Montclair Country Club. Korda shot rounds of 72 and 74, missing her first cut since September of 2022. On Tuesday, she admitted she "didn't feel right" that week, and upon returning home to Florida her doctor advised her to take some time off to rest and avoid any more flareups. No one knew the extent of the injury until she withdrew from the Mizuho Americas Open a few weeks later.

The month-long break, evidently, has paid off. Korda, who says she's pain-free, was cleared to begin practicing two weeks ago, and she's already played 27 holes at Baltusrol this week. She'll play the back nine again on Wednesday and then will be a full go on Thursday.

Of course, there are definitely softer spots on the schedule to ease into a return. But Korda is diving in head first at Baltusrol's Lower Course, which will play over 6,600 yards this week and features notoriously thick rough off the fairways. She's already experienced a few "knuckleballs" and dead-left pulls coming out of the long stuff on the A.W. Tillinghast gem. It'll be just as much of a mental test as it will be a physical one.

With that in mind, Korda was asked if there was any hesitation about this being the week she'd make her comeback.

"No, I honestly wouldn't be playing if I wasn't 100 percent," she said.

As for whether she's concerned that the injuries are stacking up at such a young age, Korda, who comes from a family of world-class athletes, says it's just part of the deal.

"I've played this sport since I started walking, so I've dealt with injuries," she said. "I think coming from a family that has played sports throughout their entire life, it just comes with it. You look at so many athletes, they all go through something. I can only speak on let's say tennis where you see [Rafael] Nadal, who battled with so many injuries throughout his entire career.

"It's something you constantly learn from. I think the best thing about this sport is that no one knows anything, or any sport, is that you're constantly learning. So when I can learn from something, I hope that I can take that in and make myself a better person and golfer."