RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — Nelly Korda has had Grand Slam events on her mind for the last two weeks, not just her own, and she made it through the first round Thursday of the ANA Inspiration with just the start she wanted.
With heat-baked greens so firm she couldn’t find pitch marks, Korda hit hybrid off the tee on the par-5 18th with a front pin. That set her up for a wedge to 3 feet below the hole for birdie and a 6-under 66, giving her a one-shot lead.
Two-time major champion In Gee Chun had to scramble for par on the 18th for a 67. Madelene Sagstrom of Sweden matched that score with a par on her closing hole at the par-5 ninth with a third shot out of rough so thick she could barely see her golf ball.
Danielle Kang, projected to reach No. 1 in the world with a victory at Mission Hills, and Brooke Henderson of Smiths Falls, Ont., were among those two shots behind.
Henderson, who turned 23 on Thursday, had a solid but uneventful start and was even par through 10 holes when she made up ground quickly. Her sister, Brittany, was among caddies who took advantage of a policy allowing them to drive carts because of the extreme heat.
“Normally I would never agree to taking carts, but definitely under the circumstances with it being so hot out here, and I definitely felt like since the LPGA was allowing us to use them, it was definitely an advantage for us,” Henderson said without a trace of doubt.
Hamilton’s Alena Sharp was tied for 77th after a 3-over 75 round.
The temperatures didn’t quite hit 40 degrees Celsius in the desert — that’s for later in the week — making this the most comfortable day. It was still exhausting for Korda, who described her start as “good, but tired, for sure.”
Imagine how her father felt.
Petr Korda, the 1998 Australian Open tennis champion, was on the 10th fairway in the morning to watch his older daughter, Jessica, post a 74. Then it was another 18 holes, along with their mother, to watch Nelly.
And this after returning from New York to watch his 20-year-old son, Sebastian Korda, make his Grand Slam debut in the U.S. Open, losing in four sets in the first round to Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont.
That got the attention of the golfing sisters, with Nelly rushing home from Arkansas last week to watch on TV.
“He looked really good, so hopefully he keeps trending upwards,” she said. “It would be really cool to see him succeed.”
Korda is better placed for immediate success in her sport, a three-time winner who already has risen to No. 3 in the women’s world ranking because of consistently solid finishes.
She wasn’t about to get wrapped up with one good round on a Mission Hills course that is playing so different from its usual Spring spot on the calendar, with Bermuda rough and greens that were firm