This Korda Finds Love With Golf
Despite having two ex-professional tennis players as parents, Jessica, 16, prefers courses to courts
By David Shefter, USGA
Bedminster, N.J. – The lanky teen in a pink one-piece dress reached for the driver and stared down the 253 yards of real estate.
Perched atop the hill at Saucon Valley Country Club’s 15th hole was the flagstick tucked in the front-right portion of the green.
The wind freshened a little bit, but it did not deter the aggressive decision. She was going to attempt to drive the green, despite a challenging hole location protected by a greenside bunker. The 16-year-old Floridian reared back and delivered a mighty whack. The ball soared like a rocket toward its intended target, clipped a piece of thick rough to briefly slow down its momentum and stopped 3 feet from the flagstick, setting up the day’s only eagle on the par-4 hole.
A roar went up on the Old Course. It was the kind of noise the teen’s father heard quite a bit as a professional player. Like in 1998 when he claimed the Australian Open title over Marcelo Rios, or when he captured the Australian Open doubles title with Sweden’s Stefan Edberg two years earlier.
Now it was time for his oldest daughter, Jessica, to feel the electricity that comes with athletic achievement. And since his retirement from professional tennis a few months following that singles championship in Melbourne, Petr Korda has effectively become the doting dad. Along with his wife, Regina, also a former pro tennis player who competed in the 1988 Seoul Olympics but was forced to retire due to back issues, the couple spends a majority of their time shuttling their three children to sporting activities. Besides Jessica, there’s 11-year-old Nelly (golfer) and 8-year-old Sebastian (tennis and ice hockey).
Lately, the accolades have belonged to Jessica, who took the golf world by storm in July of 2008 by shooting a final-round 69 (four under par) at Interlachen Country Club to earn a share of 19th place at the U.S. Women’s Open. It was the only sub-70 score that Sunday.
Then a year later in the same championship, she shot another final-round 69 to tie for 26th position along with world No. 1 Lorena Ochoa, Hall of Famer Juli Inkster and defending champion Inbee Park among others.
“It’s her stage,” said 41-year-old Petr after the first round of stroke-play qualifying at the 61st U.S. Girls’ Junior, where Jessica opened with a 3-under 69 on the Old Course at Trump National Golf Club. “My stage is over.”
For many years, the Korda family sacrificed as Petr traveled the pro tennis circuit in the U.S. and abroad. Jessica was only a toddler, but she still can recall what it was like that February Sunday in Melbourne when dad claimed his biggest title. Upon winning the match, the crowd roared its approval. Then an emotional father darted into the stands to greet his wife and young child. It was a moment not to be forgotten, although these days Petr rarely talks tennis.
“That was the turning point of his career,” said Jessica, who spent most of that week doodling in her coloring book. “I had this purple book with this pretty pen because I was pretty bored.”
Once Petr retired from the touring life, he turned all of his attention toward his children. Today he considers himself a “DD” or designated driver. Jessica, who was born in Sarasota, Fla., and now lives in Bradenton, tried tennis, but decided not to pursue her parents’ chosen vocation.
And she certainly received her parents’ athletic genes. At 5-foot-11, Jessica looks like she could play any sport, whether it be tennis, volleyball, basketball, track and field or golf.
To Petr and Regina’s credit, they let their children decide on which sports they wanted to pursue, and while Jessica loves to watch tennis, she was drawn to golf.
“In golf, she can set her own goals,” Petr said. “Everything is in front of her.”
Ironically, it was another former Czech Republic tennis star who also watched three of his five daughters gravitate to golf. Ivan Lendl, a neighbor of Petr Korda and eight years his senior, was addicted to golf during his playing days and even more so after he retired in 1994. The eight-time Grand Slam singles champion has watched daughters Marika, Isabelle and Daniela follow his passion for the game. Isabelle, 17, and 16-year-old Daniela are in the field this week at Trump National, while Marika, 19, is no longer age-eligible.
“Petr and I are friends and we talk a lot,” said Lendl, who opened his own golf academy in Sarasota at the Founders Club last year with the help of instructor Tim Sheredy. “The kids practice together at the academy. If he has a question, I am always happy to help.”
For many years, Jessica Korda’s golf exploits went unnoticed. That’s because she spent many summers in Europe visiting family and friends in the Czech Republic. Three years ago, she represented the Czech Republic at the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship in South Africa, but has since detached herself from the Czech Golf Federation. Jessica, having been born in Florida, considers herself an American and holds a U.S. Passport.
Petr related a story about watching the 1996 Atlanta Olympics on television. He and his wife had tuned in to watch the Czech track and field athletes when they heard screaming from another room. They thought a Czech had won a gold medal. To their surprise, 3-year-old Jessica was cheering American sprinter Michael Johnson.
“We had an issue with that at the Women’s Open last year,” said Petr. “They were listing her from the Czech Republic, but she is a U.S. citizen.”
After last year’s Women’s Open, Korda won the McDonald’s Betsy Rawls Girls Championship outside of Philadelphia, but skipped the U.S. Girls’ Junior at Hartford Golf Club and the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Eugene (Ore.) C.C. to attend the funeral of her great grandmother in the Czech Republic. So while good friend Alexis Thompson was claiming the Girls’ Junior, Korda was thousands of miles away. She only played a handful of rounds, one of which was with Isabelle Lendl, who came for a visit.
This summer, however, Korda has committed to a full schedule of events. She lost a playoff to 2006 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Kimberly Kim at the Rolex Girls Championship at Rancho Santa Fe (Calif.) Golf Club and was also the runner-up at the 2009 Scott Robertson Memorial in Roanoke, Va. A few weeks later, she made the cut at the Women’s Open and followed it up with a tie for sixth in her title defense at the McDonald’s Betsy Rawls.
But for the first time in her career, she’s committed to playing this week’s Girls’ Junior and the Women’s Amateur Aug. 3-9 at Old Warson C.C. in St. Louis. This week it was announced that Korda was one of 12 players selected to represent the U.S. at the Junior Solheim Cup Aug. 17-19 at Aurora (Ill.) Country Club, which was a major goal entering the summer.
“My game is progressing to where I want it to be,” said Jessica.
Playing a full summer schedule, however, does have drawbacks. Korda won’t be visiting family in the Czech Republic. She also realizes the importance of competing in major events this summer.
“People didn’t know about her because she was always spending the summers in Europe,” said Petr. “This is kind of her full year. I am happy she can go out under the radar.”
Korda, a junior-to-be at Bradenton Prep Academy, doesn’t mind playing without too many outside expectations. At the Women’s Open, she was paired with Thompson and Kim, and saw the plethora of reporters and photographers chronicling Thompson. It provided extra motivation for Korda, but she also had the opportunity to play in the spotlight.
“Nobody really knows about me and I’m trying to keep it that way,” said Jessica with a smile. “It’s kind of nice.”
Then again, shooting 69s the last day of Women’s Opens won’t keep you out of the limelight forever. People take notice when you do it once. Do it twice and a trend develops.
The one thing those two Women’s Open appearances did boost was Korda’s confidence. She saw she could play with some of the game’s best. Now it’s a matter of consistently delivering.
“She has a lot of talent and a lot of power in her game,” said Lendl, whose oldest daughter (Marika) is playing for the University of Florida, with Isabelle following suit this fall. “It’s just a question of experience and hard work and we’ll see how far she can go with it.”
David Shefter is a USGA Digital Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.