Iona Stephen: “Nelly Korda can be golf’s Caitlin Clark”

All the ingredients are there for Nelly Korda to set the same trailblazing path as basketball superstar Caitlin Clark, and take women’s golf to the next level says Iona Stephen.

Some champions come into their sport and capture the imagination. Charisma and character charming fans around the world on and off the field. Partner charisma with the ability to win and you have a powerful force. We all watch professional sports to be entertained and, in every sport, there’s that athlete who stands out from the crowd. It is not just about talent, it is an ability to do the unexpected – to exist on a higher plane. In football, it’s Rapinoe, in tennis there’s Serena, in basketball we are seeing something exceptional in Caitlin Clark. Now Nelly Korda has the chance to become that athlete in golf.

If you’ve not been living under a rock for the past 12 months you will have heard of Caitlin Clark. She has been the main driver for the dramatic uptake in women’s basketball viewership around the world and in the recent NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) title game, where Clark represented Iowa, 51,000 people watched live and a whopping 18.9 million viewers tuned in. To put that into perspective, the average Premier League match gets 1.2 million viewers in the UK.

Caitlin Clark is a huge driver behind the drastic uptake in women's basketball

Off the court, the 22-year-old has reportedly signed a record $28m sponsorship deal with Nike, having just turned professional. She is setting records in women’s basketball, and we are witnessing something we have never seen before in women’s sports. Much like Clark, Korda has broken into her own league in golf but can she do for women’s golf what Caitlin Clark has done for women’s basketball? Let’s delve into the key ingredients of ‘The Clark Effect’.

Ingredient number one is breaking records. Clark is the all-time leading scorer in NCAA basketball history. Not women’s basketball – basketball. She has also broken the record for the most three-pointers in a season. But it’s not just about the records, it’s about the style in which she has been breaking them. She’s exciting and entertaining, capable of scoring from anywhere and with power or finesse. To witness someone so dominant in their craft is inspirational, even if you’re not a fan of sport. Fans are queuing in ever-growing lines for autographs, selfies, and pictures with the new superstar.

Nelly Korda has tied the LPGA record with five successive wins. To win once in golf is hard, to win twice is even harder, so what she has achieved is almost impossible to comprehend. Korda is one of just three players in LPGA history to achieve the feat (Nancy Lopez 1978 and Annika Sorenstam 2004) and the first golfer to win five in a row since Tiger Woods did so in 2007-08.  The exciting thing about Korda is that she’s just getting started. She is only 25 and she has the potential to break records for many years to come. The Floridian is drawing crowds in a way we haven’t seen since Michelle Wie West, with some of the biggest galleries the LPGA has seen in recent years following her to her second Major victory on the Sunday at The Chevron.

Nelly Korda won her fifth consecutive tournament at the first Major of the LPGA Tour Season

Ingredient number two in ‘The Clark Effect’ is awareness. Clark is more than a sports person, she’s a sports personality and recognizes the importance of that two-way engagement with fans. Her behavior has an impact whether she wants it to or not and she has got the memo. Just look at the technical foul Clark was awarded after saying ‘Damn it’ on the court. The fans responded by having t-shirts printed with the words ‘Damn it!’ on the front to show their support for Clark. They are right behind her and want her to do well. She is known for her engagement with young fans, often giving away her shoes courtside post-match and making time for the people who are rooting for their new hero. At just 21 years old, Clark has recognized the importance of her connection to sports fans around the world and wants to bring them on this journey.

Since turning pro at age 18, Korda has built a good relationship with the media, and she knows it’s a crucial part of the job. To achieve what she already has requires focus, energy, and balance, so her exposure, understandably, has been managed carefully. But now is the time for Nelly to come out of her shell and let the media and fans get to know her on a deeper level so they can truly invest in her.

The third ingredient is strong media coverage. ESPN has been steadily investing in women’s basketball for years, adding shoulder programming, a more robust selection show, and other elements to get people interested and engaged. The coverage of March Madness on the men’s and women’s sides looks increasingly similar every year. Clark didn’t bring fans in by herself and this “moment” in women’s sports didn’t happen overnight. Primetime TV slots and prime coverage of the NCAA title match led to a record-breaking 18.9 million fans tuning in with Clark’s dominance forcing networks to pay attention. On Sunday at the Chevron Championship, a peak audience of 1.9 million people tuned in to NBC to watch Korda record her fifth consecutive tournament victory at the Chevron Championship. It’s not a Caitlin Clark rating, but for a sport that has been affected by poor television coverage and a lack of breakthrough stars, it was one of the better days for women’s golf in recent years. People wanted to see Korda’s feat.

“We need a stage. We need to be on primetime TV, and we need to showcase the talent we have out here, which is a lot. We need the support from not just the crowds but the television networks,” Korda said in a recent press conference.

The main difference between Clark and Korda is that the structure and investment of coverage in their respective sports is miles apart and there have been recent instances where poor TV windows cut viewers off from consuming LPGA Tour golf at key moments. The cost of rights for the LPGA Tour is significantly cheaper than rights for the PGA Tour so the opportunity is there for a network to invest and, potentially, even come out with a profit. Women’s golf is entertaining and the excuse of not watching because the game is dominated by unrecognizable players doesn’t sell anymore. Korda has arrived.

The final ingredient is large brand sponsorships. As No.1 draft pick Clark will pocket $338,056 over four years at Indiana Fever. It’s $55.36m less than the four-year deal Victor Wembanyama signed with San Antonio Spurs as the No.1 NBA (men’s) draft pick in 2023 and highlights the continued battle women’s sports face. However, Clark continues to make history off the court as a pioneering example for so-called name, image, and likeness (NIL) deals, having already banked more than $3 million from deals with Nike, Gatorade, Goldman Sachs, Buick, and State Farm since they were legalized by the NCAA.

Korda is treading a similar path with Nike, Goldman Sachs, T-Mobile, and TaylorMade all on board. That list will only grow if her success continues. We have seen the power of brand support creating icons in sport and now is the perfect time for them to invest in women in golf. Korda is one of the most accomplished athletes on the planet right now, and she’s only 25 years old. Given that fewer than 100 days remain before the Olympics, where she will attempt to win a second gold medal after her success in Tokyo, we could witness ‘The Korda Effect’. The door is ajar, and I just hope Nelly can barge through, piece all the ingredients together and change the way women’s golf is viewed forever.

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About the author

Iona Stephen is a golf broadcaster and writes for Today's Golfer.

Iona Stephen – Broadcaster and Today’s Golfer contributor

A former professional golfer, who has played on the Ladies European Tour, Iona is a highly respected golf broadcaster.

She joined Today’s Golfer as a regular contributor in 2023 and offers insight into the professional game from her life working on the world’s biggest tours.

The Scotswoman is as comfortable covering the game from the commentary booth as she is broadcasting in front of the camera and from the course, where she is regularly seen interviewing the world’s best players during their rounds.

Alongside her television work, Stephen also has her own YouTube channel – On The Road With Iona.

Follow Iona on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and TikTok, and find out more at

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