If you’re looking for a time of the year – not a particular move, round, or tournament, but a moment to take your breath away – this could be it. It happened in the brutal heat of a summer in Tokyo around 3:00 a.m. on the east coast of the United States. But those who witnessed those seconds, in person or on television, understood the impact of that moment.
It happened on 18e green at Kasumigaseki Golf Club after the conclusion of the second week of Olympic golf. All the blows had been played; all dashboards were signed; all the congratulatory hugs had been given. Crowds were small and the heat was still scorching. But the moment was unforgettable.
It was then that Nelly Korda, after having incessantly fiddled with her hair while accepting the gold medal from IOC member Odette Assembe Engoulou and a bouquet of flowers from the president of the International Golf Federation Annika Sorenstam, turned around. and faced flag poles. As the United States flag was hoisted over the “Star Spangled Banner” notes, the 23-year-old Rolex Rankings World No. 1 player put her right hand over her heart and cried.
That was it. Those few seconds summed up what the entire two-week experience in Tokyo meant for the men and women who made the trip, handled COVID restrictions, endured the freezing temperatures, and played for pride and country. It also encapsulated what the five-year experience of bringing golf back to the Olympics meant for everyone who watched and put down roots, whether or not they knew the game.
Getting to this point had been a terrible ordeal, not only for Korda, but for all those who jumped obstacles to host the 2020 Games in 2021. The pandemic has pushed everything back by a year. But the increase in cases in Asia has put a question mark on whether this Olympiad would take place at all. Intense negotiations ensued. Meanwhile, golfers weighed the risks of a new health crisis. In 2016, it was Zika, the virus spread by mosquitoes that caused severe birth defects. Then in 2020 and 2021, it was COVID. Golf had been banned from the Olympics for over a century and the IOC had given the game two cycles to prove it belonged. Circumstances did not make the task easy.
But once the first shots were taken in the air, golf became one of the must-see sports of the Tokyo Games. Xander Sc Chaudele of the United States won the men’s competition with a shot over Rory Sabbatini. Then the women increased their audience as Korda, along with Lydia Ko, Japanese Mone Iname and Indian Aditi Ashok, with guest appearances by Madelene Sagstrom, Hannah Green, Nanna Koertz Madsen and Emily Pedersen, brought a new audience to a sport that many had never seen.
After a first round of clearing her throats, Korda set the tone on Friday when she came close to making history. She stood on the tee of par-4 18e need a birdie to become only the second woman to shoot 59 at this level. The first was Annika Sorenstam in 2001, while Korda was still wearing diapers. But Korda and her junior, Jason McDede, misjudged where the tees were placed on the 18 and she hit her drive through the fairway. A sloppy double bogey resulted in a 62 and the header.
She never gave it up, although on Sunday Korda shared it after a lackluster start that included only a birdie and a double bogey in her opening seven holes. Then thunderstorms erupted and interrupted the game for an hour, giving Korda time to regroup. She birdied at eight, nine and 10, a bogey at 11, then another at 13. The lead was restored. She landed one regular par after another to keep it going.
On the last hole, Korda needed a par to win. It was a hole where she hadn’t birdied yet and where “59 watch” came to a screeching halt with Friday’s brace. A tough driving hole with a bunker to the right, trees to the left and water in front of the green, Korda hit a 3 wood in a perfect spot. From there she hit a short iron safely down the center of the green and rolled her first putt to within two feet.
When she made the short, Nelly was greeted on the green by her sister Jessica, who was already crying.
A playoff ensued to determine silver and bronze. Ko found the bunker at 18 and couldn’t touch the green, so Iname took the money.
A few minutes later, Nelly came out all in white, her long blonde hair visibly giving her fits.
You know the rest. You’ve probably seen it, at least in replay. It was, in the minds of many, the best golfing moment of 2021.