She Has The Name … And The Game
Marika Lendl Took Up Golf Only After Incentive From Famous Father

By David Shefter, USGA

Fairfield, Conn. – Ivan Lendl has one simple rule for his children: they must participate in some sort of physical activity. “I don’t want them sitting around watching TV,” said the eight-time Grand Slam tennis winner.

So when his eldest daughter – Lendl has five girls – gave up tennis three years ago due

to nagging shoulder injuries, he suggested golf. There was one minor problem, though. Marika Lendl wasn’t interested. “I told her I don’t care if you pick a sport and want to

do it professionally or just for fun, but you have to do something,” Ivan said. “She really wanted a dog and I kept telling her no.”

That’s when Ivan came up with an incentive plan. If she took some golf lessons and practiced hard for a sustained period of time, he would get Marika her coveted pet.

Call it bribery or just dangling a carrot, the directive worked.

Marika Lendl not only started playing the game, but enjoying it as well. “I really got into

it once we got the dog (a German Shepherd),” Marika said. “I definitely have a passion for it now.”

This summer, Marika’s game has taken off. Not only did the Goshen, Conn. resident place fourth in her age group at the Pepsi Little Peoples event in Illinois, but she also qualified for the U.S. Girls’ Junior at Brooklawn Country Club. Lendl is one of 10 13-year-olds in the 156-player field this week and her 5-over-par 76 in the first round of stroke-play qualifying has her in solid position to advance to the match-play portion of

the championship.

She tuned up for the Girls’ Junior last week in San Diego at the Junior World

competition where she finished 24th in the 13-14 division.

“She was really nervous,” said Fran Hoxie, her swing coach and caddie for this week.

“I was trying to get her to smile out there.”

Of course, if Marika needs any advice about the pressures of big-time competition, she doesn’t need to go very far. Her father captured three U.S. Opens, three French Opens and three Australian Opens during his illustrious career. “He just told me to play my game,” Marika said.

Ivan Lendl has now taken his competitive spirit to the golf course where he regularly competes in Celebrity Players Tour events across the country – he tied for 13th this past weekend in Lake Tahoe, Nev. During his competitive tennis days, it was not uncommon to find Ivan at the golf course after one of his matches or on an off-day.

It was a sport he began later in life after moving to the U.S. permanently in 1980 (he is now a U.S. citizen). Growing up in Czechoslovakia, which was a communist country

until 1989, golf had reputation for being elitist and snobby. Tennis also had that label,

but that sport had more history with Hall of Famer Jaroslav Drobny winning Wimbledon

in 1954 and Jan Kodes doing the same in 1973. Lendl said many of the country’s great hockey players took up tennis in the summer to improve their conditioning and footwork.

Lately, however, golf has started to grab the country’s attention. Jana Peterkova

captured the 2003 NCAA Division II title at Florida Southern. She has since turned pro and now competes on the Futures Tour. Lendl actually played tennis against her mother.

“Up until a few years ago, we only had four courses in the entire country,” Ivan said.

“Now we have seven or eight. It just takes time like anything else. It’s going to be very popular. I know (former tennis star) Petr Korda ’s daughter has picked up the game and is shooting in the low 40s (for nine holes).”

For now, though, Ivan Lendl might be the Czech Republic ’s best male golfer. Besides playing CPT events, he annually tries to qualify for the U.S. Open. But it was his

daughter that became the first family member to play in a USGA competition by

qualifying for the Girls’ Junior.

“What I like the most is that she is enjoying it,” Ivan said of Marika’s newfound love for golf. “I have great memories of being a kid and traveling around Europe playing in tennis tournaments at the age of 10, 12, 14 and 18. I hope it is the same for my girls. Playing here this week is a great opportunity for her.”

It’s obvious at first glance that Marika Lendl has athletic gifts. Despite a lack of length – she hit fairway woods into several par-4s – her swing is fluid.

“We have her on a program to strengthen her up,” said Hoxie, who is the head pro at Washington (Conn.) Golf Club, where he teaches all of Ivan Lendl ’s daughters. “But

for her first national tournament, I think she did great.”

Initially, Marika’s goal was just to qualify for this championship, but now she hopes to make match play. But if that doesn’t happen, the experience this week will be priceless, from playing a championship-caliber course to just watching and observing how the best junior girls approach the game.

“It’s not just walking up to your ball and saying, ‘Oh it’s a 7-iron,’ ” Marika said. “It’s how they manage their games. It’s very good to see that.”

And who knows, someday in the not-so-distant future, Marika will be joined by her two younger sisters on the USGA stage. Isabelle, 11, was an alternate for this year’s Girls’ Junior, and Daniela, 10, might have the most natural talent, according to Hoxie . Isabelle and Marika have become so proficient that Ivan won’t allow them to play a best-ball match against him. And if Ivan ’s youngest daughter, Nikola (5), takes up the game, he might not get into a match at all.

“When the little one picks it up,” said Ivan, “I am going to get kicked out of the foursome.”

David Shefter is a staff writer at the USGA. He can be reached at dshefter@usga.org.