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LPGA star Nelly Korda has her eyes on the prize at the ANA Inspiration

Nelly Korda's five top-10 finishes in five starts so far this season make her a top contender at the ANA Inspiration. Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- Ask Nelly Korda how the foundation of her golf career started, and she will tell you that it began at her older sister's golf lessons.

Five-time LPGA Tour winner Jessica Korda, five-and-a-half years older than her sister Nelly, began taking lessons around age 8, which set the eventual career path for the Korda kids.

"I was right beside her, always tagging along, and we kind of bonded playing golf together," said Nelly, now 20 and ranked No. 8. "I just loved being around her, and I guess I was that annoying little sister who had to do everything her older sister did."

Fast-forward to 2019, and you could say the younger sister is focused on bigger things, including world rankings, career wins and maybe even snatching her big sister's prize money -- or becoming the first of the two siblings to win a major championship.

Nelly Korda's 2019 start makes her a top contender this week at the LPGA's first major of the year, the ANA Inspiration. She has recorded five top-10 finishes in five starts, including a win at the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open in February and a tie for second with her sister at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in late March.

"I'm happy with the way my game is trending," Nelly said after her runner-up finish last month. "Obviously, at the end of the day, we're trying to beat each other."

Nelly also said she was "proud" of her sister's finish in what was Jessica's first 2019 season start. Jessica rallied from a forearm injury that sidelined her for the first two months of competition.

Jessica, who tied for fourth at last year's ANA Inspiration in a 2018 season that included five top-eight finishes and one win, acknowledged her sister's fast start in 2019 while noting her need to play catch-up.

"It's been so great watching her ... just seeing how she carries herself and how she represents herself has been fantastic," 11th-ranked Jessica said of Nelly's season performance so far. "[But] she's one up on me this year, so I got to put my butt in gear."

Playing on sponsor invitations in 2014 and 2015, Nelly Korda missed her first two cuts at the ANA Inspiration. She tied for 42nd during her 2017 rookie LPGA year and improved to a tie for 13th at last year's event.

Her buildup to this year's already sparkling season has shown steady progress, starting with her first year as a professional in 2016 playing on the LPGA's pipeline Symetra Tour. She recorded seven top-10 finishes and one win in the minor league to finish ninth on the Symetra's 2016 season money list, earning automatic 2017 LPGA membership.

As a rookie in 2017, Nelly posted five top-10s in 23 LPGA events, with a season-best tie for fifth in Malaysia. Last year, she recorded seven top-10s with two runner-up finishes and earned her first win in Taiwan. Her second career win earlier this year once again came overseas.

"I have no idea why I play so well [abroad]," she said. "I would love to get a win on home soil, but I'll take any win because it's really hard to win out here."

Nelly made her mark earlier this year when she won her second LPGA title in Australia, a place where other Korda family members also achieved career milestones. Her dad, Petr, won the 1988 Australian Open tennis title, Jessica won the ISPA Handa Women's Australian Open in 2012, and brother Sebastian won the 2018 Australian boys' singles tennis championship.

"We have something we will be cherishing for the rest of our lives," Petr said in an interview with Reuters in February regarding his family's success in Australia.

In fact, it is Petr who sets Nelly's LPGA tournament schedule each year and helps her plan her season. Along with their mother, Regina Rajchrtova -- who also played professional tennis -- the former Czech tennis pros are available to help their kids navigate the tricky nature of competitive sports.

"My dad makes sure that I take some time off when I need to do that, as well as to really push through when I also need to do that," said Nelly, who skipped last week's LPGA Kia Classic. "We're fortunate to have grown up around professional sports and to have parents who have so much knowledge and experience and let us pick their brains a bit."

While Nelly hesitates to talk about her goals for the season, she admits that she hopes to make the 2019 U.S. Solheim Cup team -- along with her sister -- and improve her career record at the ANA Inspiration this week.

"Any professional golfer will tell you their two top goals is to win a major championship and to become the No. 1 player in the world," said Nelly, who lives in Bradenton, Florida, across the state from her sister, who resides in the West Palm Beach area. "That's in the back of my head, but I'm not going to put too much pressure on myself."

Heading into this week's first major, the third-year LPGA Tour member brings 17 career top-10s to Mission Hills Country Club and is top-ranked in five the LPGA's statistical categories, including greens in regulation (82 percent), birdies (103) and sub-par holes (105).

She is second in scoring average (68.35), second on the season money list ($472,810 in five events) and second in the LPGA's player-of-the-year race.

No doubt, Nelly Korda has come a long way from the days of simply following her sister. She wants more: more wins, more dreams, more milestones in a family that thrives on competition.

Especially when it comes to a friendly, season-long wager between the two siblings, who compete for a pricey handbag at the expense of the lower-ranked sister. Jessica won the purse in 2017, and Nelly was the winner of a new Louis Vuitton handbag in 2018.

It's all in fun, yet it's a reminder of an entire season's top performance, which Nelly hopes to continue this week in the California desert.

Lisa D. Mickey has covered golf for Golf World, Golf For Women, The New York Times, the U.S. Golf Association, LPGA.com, Virginia Golfer Magazine and for various other publications and websites. She is based in Florida.