Nelly Korda, Lilia Vu and Rose Zhang look for Olympic inspiration at Amundi Evian Championship

Sports

Most of the world’s best women golfers are competing in this week’s Amundi Evian Championship, the fourth major championship of the season, and for many, it won’t be their only trip to France this summer.

Sixty golfers will return to Paris on Aug. 7-10 for the women’s Olympic golf competition at Le Golf National, the site of the 2018 Ryder Cup. Former Duke star Celine Boutier, the defending Amundi Evian Championship winner, will represent France in the Olympics.

Each of the top 10 players in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings qualified for the Olympics, including world No. 1 Nelly Korda, No. 2 Lilia Vu and No. 8 Rose Zhang, who will all represent the U.S.

“Gosh, I’m so excited,” Korda said. “Any time I get to represent my country it’s just such a really big honor. To get to do that at the Olympics is going to be an amazing experience again. Getting to do it in Paris, maybe this year getting to watch a couple sports that we didn’t get to do in Japan and Tokyo.”

Korda, 25, is the defending gold medalist after finishing 17-under 267 at the Tokyo Olympics in August 2021. She finished one shot better than Japan’s Mone Inami and New Zealand’s Lydia Ko. Inami defeated Ko in a sudden-death playoff to claim the silver medal.

Korda battled the rain, heat and humidity to become the first U.S. woman to capture a gold medal since Margaret Abbott won at the Paris Olympics in 1900. Golf wasn’t included in the Olympics from 1904 to 2012.

In Tokyo, Korda’s sister Jessica carded a 7-under 64 for the low score of the final round and tied for 15th. Jessica Korda hasn’t competed on the LPGA Tour since May 2023 after dealing with a back injury. The six-time LPGA winner gave birth to her first child, a son named Greyson, in February.

“It’s going to be a little sad not getting to go with my sister,” Nelly Korda said. “I think that’s what was so special about 2021, was getting to share that experience with Jess. But, yeah, I’m just really excited to represent the USA at the Olympics again.”

Korda keeps her gold medal on a shelf in her office. Her mother, Regina Rajchrtová, competed in tennis for Czechoslovakia at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. Her father, Petr Korda, was ranked as high as No. 2 in the world and won the 1998 Australian Open. Her brother, Sebastian, is also a professional tennis player.

“It was never really a dream for me because it was never a reality until 2016 when golf was introduced back into the Olympics,” Nelly said. “It was something every four years or even two years. We did love watching the Winter Games as well that we all watched as a family. Back then it was just my mom that got to represent her country.”

This week, Korda hopes to turn things around after missing three straight cuts, including at two majors — the U.S. Women’s Open and the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Before that, she had won six times in seven starts.

“I think I’ve gone through every emotion possible, and it’s just July, on the golf course,” Korda said. “You know, I love this game. I love the bad, I love the good. The bad makes you appreciate the good and that’s just how it is. It’s sports. If you care so deeply about it, you’re just going to go through the wave of the roller coaster.”

Adding to Korda’s difficult stretch was an unfortunate episode in which she was bitten on her leg by a dog at a coffee shop in Seattle on June 22. She didn’t reveal much about her injury during a news conference in France on Wednesday, other than saying the wound is “getting better.”

Zhang, 21, was competing at Stanford in May 2023 and has already won twice on the LPGA Tour, most recently at the Cognizant Founders Cup in May. In less than two full seasons on tour, Zhang will have represented the U.S. at the Solheim Cup in Spain and now the Olympics.

“It was almost mind-boggling because I watched the Olympics ever since I was an itty-bitty person,” Zhang said. “I watched all the different events — gymnastics, swimming, track and field — and now calling myself an Olympian is not something that I’ve ever thought about before just because it was so far into the future.”

Vu, whose five victories on the LPGA Tour the past two seasons include majors at the Chevron Championship and AIG Women’s Open in 2023, won’t have to look far for inspiration at the Olympics.

Her late grandfather, Dinh Du, built a 32-foot boat to escape the Mekong Delta region after the end of the Vietnam War. In 1982, Du and his wife, Hongyen Dao, and their five children fled Vietnam with 76 others on the wooden vessel.

When the boat started taking on water after three days at sea, Vu’s grandfather fired their only flare as a distress signal. Miraculously, they were rescued by a passing U.S. vessel. The family eventually made its way to the U.S. and settled in Southern California.

Vu, who played at UCLA, struggled as an LPGA Tour rookie and lost her card after the 2009 season. She tried to work her way back on the Epson Tour and nearly gave up the game. She credits her grandfather for helping her turn her game around. When she visited him in the hospital, he told her: “Go play well. Do your best.”

Du died March 9, 2020.

A missed cut at the 2022 Amundi Evian Championship proved to be a turning point in her career.

“I felt like just not in a good place,” Vu said. “I was really hard on myself and upset with how I played. I felt like I didn’t live up to kind of what I see myself as. And so I remember being in the hotel and I’m like, ‘I shouldn’t think about golf this way. Anyone would love to be in my position and to play at Evian.’ I changed my perspective for the remaining tournaments and just tried to have fun out here and appreciate where I’m at.”

Vu’s breakthrough LPGA season came last year when she won four times. She added a fifth victory at the Meijer LPGA Classic in Belmont, Michigan, on June 16.

She’ll be thinking about her late grandfather at the Olympics next month.

“It means the world,” Vu said. “It means that hopefully my grandpa didn’t build that boat for nothing, and I’m able to do something with the life he gave all of us, and I’m never going to stop trying my best.”

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