Sun. May 19th, 2024

Wyndham Clark looks to defend his title and Nelly Korda tries to continue her win streak

By admin May15,2024

  • Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior WriterMay 8, 2024, 05:16 PM ET

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    • Senior college football writer
    • Author of seven books on college football
    • Graduate of the University of Georgia

The PGA Tour is making a final stop before the PGA Championship, the second major of the season, which will tee off next week at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky.

But the biggest story in professional golf this week will take place at the Cognizant Founders Cup at Upper Montclair Country Club in Clifton, New Jersey, where LPGA Tour star Nelly Korda will attempt to win in her sixth consecutive start.

With another victory, Korda would break an LPGA Tour record she shares with Annika Sorenstam (2004-05) and Nancy Lopez (1978).

Most of the PGA Tour’s top golfers, including Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland, Justin Thomas, Wyndham Clark and others, are competing at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, where a $20 million purse is on the line.

World No. 1 golfer Scottie Scheffler isn’t in the field, as he’s at home in Dallas with his wife, Meredith, who is expecting their first child.

What’s next on the PGA Tour

Wyndham Clark has shot up the rankings in the past year. Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Wells Fargo Championship
When: Thursday-Sunday
Where: Quail Hollow Club, Charlotte, North Carolina
Defending champion: Wyndham Clark
Purse: $20 million ($3.6 million to winner)

Myrtle Beach Classic
When: Thursday-Sunday
Where: Dunes Golf & Beach Club, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Defending champion: First year
Purse: $4 million ($720,000 to winner)

Clark’s defense

A year ago, Wyndham Clark was ranked 163rd in the Official World Golf Ranking and hadn’t won a PGA Tour event. After winning at Quail Hollow last year, he picked up victories at the U.S. Open at Los Angeles Country Club and the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February.

Clark is now ranked No. 3 in the world, behind Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy.

“Yeah, it’s crazy,” Clark said. “I mean, in 12 months, it’s crazy to think I jumped that many spots and have a few wins under my belt now. It’s honestly really humbling and fun to be in this position. I’m just really looking to continue to grow and get better. I like to think this is just the beginning, and hopefully it’s the start of a lot of really good golf in the future years.”

Earlier this week, Clark took a scouting trip to Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina, where he’ll defend his U.S. Open title on June 13-16.

Simpson OK with exemptions

Webb Simpson has heard some of the criticism about him and other PGA Tour policy board members receiving sponsors’ exemptions into tournaments. While acknowledging that they are the “most coveted sponsor exemptions in the history of the Tour” because of $20 million purses at signature events, Simpson said he is satisfied with how they’ve been distributed so far.

Simpson is playing on a sponsor’s exemption this week — he is a longtime resident and member of Quail Hollow Club.

“These tournament directors are working round the clock for a year trying to make their tournament the best,” Simpson said. “I know that this is my fourth sponsor exemption, and Adam Scott’s received his fair share. There was controversy and guys were trying to link us being on the board, but it has nothing to do with me being on the board.”

Simpson, whose eight worldwide victories include the 2012 U.S. Open, said his track record and familiarity with tournament directors has more to do with getting the exemptions.

“I certainly think the criticisms, I knew they were going to come depending on who got them, but I’m very comfortable knowing that we’ve given the sponsors the opportunity to pick, and the tournament directors,” Simpson said.

PGA Tour chief competitions officer Tyler Dennis said Wednesday that the policy board would evaluate sponsor’s exemptions at a meeting this summer.

Changes to the “Green Mile”

Quail Hollow club lengthened the par-4 16th hole — the start of the fabled “Green Mile” three-hole finishing stretch. It’s the longest par-4 hole on the PGA Tour schedule so far this season.

With the change, players are probably going to be less likely to fly the right fairway bunker with their tee shots.

“If you could fly it 320 [yards], that fairway is double the size, and you’re hitting way less club in,” two-time Wells Fargo Championship winner Max Homa said. “So you could swing way harder and be kind of bailed out left and right a little bit. Now, it’s like I don’t think anybody can fly it. I say that and Wyndham will probably carry it.”

Homa said he isn’t a fan of lengthening holes, but it probably needed to be done on No. 16.

“If you hit the ball far, that’s a massive skill, but it felt like you were getting an enormous reward for about five to seven percent of the field,” Homa said. “I think it makes it a little bit better.”

Since 2003, the Green Mile has been ranked the hardest three-hole finishing stretch on tour with an average of +0.89 over par. Holes 16-18 have accounted for 24.1% of bogeys, 38.7% of doubles and 51.5% of triples or worse during the Wells Fargo Championship.

What’s next on the LPGA Tour

Cognizant Founders Cup
When: Thursday-Sunday
Where: Upper Montclair Country Club, Clifton, New Jersey
Defending champion: Jin Young Ko
Purse: $3 million ($450,000 to winner)

All eyes on Nelly

After taking a two-week break after capturing her second major championship at the Chevron Championship on April 21, Korda is back in action.

“If I’m being honest, I have not thought about it at all because I’ve had so much going on those two weeks,” Korda said. “I’m really just trying to keep it one shot at a time, see how it goes. This golf course is tough. It’s very, very narrow off the tee. The rough is very penalizing.”

Last year, in her first start at Upper Montclair Country Club, Korda carded 72-74 and missed the cut. She also missed the cut at the 2023 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey.

Korda will play the first two rounds with defending champion Jin Young Ko and Australia’s Minjee Lee.

“Obviously, with the weather they’ve had it’s a little bit more wet compared to last year,” Korda said. “Last year was my first year playing and it was super firm, so a little different from last year. I think you can be a bit more aggressive this year. My track record isn’t great in New Jersey, so I’m hoping to change that this year.”

Nelly at Met Gala

Nelly Korda walked the red carpet at the Met Gala on Monday, and will look to win her sixth consecutive start this week. Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

On Monday, Korda attended the annual Met Gala at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. She’s among a handful of athletes who had been invited to the event — tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams also were at this week’s fundraiser.

“Gosh, it was so, so crazy,” Korda said. “You’re standing in line ready to get on the carpet, and you’re like seeing all these people you usually watch in TV shows or movies, and they’re like famous singers and you’re starstruck the entire time. It’s the best people watching for me. I was just silent looking at everyone’s dresses.”

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Korda said she saw Shakira, one of her favorite singers, and the rapper and actor Jaden Smith, who stopped and said hello.

“Everyone was really amazing,” Korda said. “I can’t just point out one person. The dresses were unbelievable and the whole evening was just a dream come true.”

Korda wore a floral Oscar de la Renta gown on the red carpet. She was a guest of Casey Wasserman, chairman and CEO of the Wasserman entertainment and sports agency.

“I got a couple dresses to try on from Oscar de la Renta, and they were all so stunning,” Korda said. “It was so hard to decide. I actually switched it up last minute, probably like 20 minutes before I started to get ready, and I had to completely change my entire look. I was going to go with a long sleeve gown so I was going to have my hair up.

“Then I saw this amazing red dress and I just changed my entire look probably 20 minutes before I started to get ready. Switched it up on everyone.”

Shaw hoping to inspire others

Ashley Shaw, a 15-year-old from Litchfield Park, Arizona, is making her LPGA Tour debut after winning the John Shippen Cognizant Cup by 2 strokes Monday. The John Shippen events work to provide playing opportunities to top Black amateurs and pros.

John Shippen Jr. was the first American-born golf professional and the country’s first Black golf professional.

“I am extremely excited to be a part of the change and bringing more diversity to the game of golf,” Shaw said. “The game of golf, it doesn’t have a lot of people who look like myself, and even just women in the game who stick with it.

“So being a part of events like the John Shippen, it brings kind of a closer-to-home type feel. When I play in the events I play in I’m usually the only one who looks like me — most of the time. It’s maybe two other people out there.”

Shaw also competes on the Underrated Tour, which is supported by NBA star Stephen Curry and LPGA player Mariah Stackhouse.

Shaw says she hopes to inspire other young Black female golfers this week.

“I definitely hope that they see that when they have a dream, that if they stick to it and work hard they can achieve it,” she said.

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