DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Jessica Korda huddled with her parents and swing coach Saturday night, going over the pros and cons of turning professional. A rules official had told her father, Petr, earlier that day that they’d need to make a decision immediately after play had finished on Sunday.
“I knew that I wanted to turn pro and go down that road,” Jessica Korda said. “I never actually thought I would do it this early.”
When asked for an example of a con to turning pro early, Korda immediately said schoolwork. The high school senior took two weeks off for LPGA Q-School and will pay the price when she returns, working through Christmas break. She’s taking three classes at the moment, but can only name two: English and marine science.
“That tells you how much work I’m doing,” she said with a laugh.
Korda, 17, spoke with a rules official moments after walking out of the scoring tent on Dec. 12 and declared that she’s now a professional. She closed with a 5-over 77 on a miserably cold and windy day at LPGA International, finishing two strokes behind Aree Song, the first prodigy to enter Q-School, as a 17-year-old in 2003.
Korda turns 18 on Feb. 27. Should she receive a sponsor exemption into Thailand or Singapore, the first two events, she can play as a 17-year-old. However, the money she earns will not be official.
For years, Korda has been decked out in Adidas attire from head to toe. She’s played with TaylorMade clubs since former tennis star Ivan Lendl took Korda, also a tennis professional from their native Czech Republic, and his youngest daughter, Daniela, to get fitted when she was 13. Still, when asked about contracts and agents, Petr Korda said the only thing he’s certain of is that Jessica will be putting her clubs in the corner until Christmas.
“I think she is ready for the next step,” said Petr, who learned in tennis that it’s best not to think too far ahead. He let his daughter face each challenge as it came. Only now will they map out the year ahead.
Song has a unique perspective on what’s next for Korda, having been there herself several years ago. Professional golf has been a constant fight for Song, who has battled injuries and burnout much of the time. Looking back, she wishes she had gone to college for a couple of years. Right now, she’s taking online classes with the University of Phoenix, though at 24 she’s still considered a freshman.
Last year, Song hit a tree midswing at the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic and injured her left shoulder. The nerve-traction injury caused her to lose her feel on the greens and some distance off the tee. In the past month and a half, her game has started to return.
“When I step on the course, I feel like I can make birdies, and that’s key for me,” Song said. “Playing too defensively the last two years.”
Last month Song, who is half Korean, half Thai, earned her card at KLPGA Q-School. The first stage had 324 players, and Song said conditions were cold and slow, with rounds taking seven hours.
“I think I took, like, seven bananas,” she said.
Song and her twin sister, Naree, have been open about talking about the lack of balance they had as younger players. Their mental outlook has changed dramatically over the years.
For two years, the young Song twins strapped pink sand bags to their ankles and walked down the 11 flights of stairs at the family hotel in Thailand. They wore the sand bags under their pants to school from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., taking them off for golf practice. Their father thought it would help develop their size.
Every night from ages 8 to 14, the twins were asked to bid their father goodnight by telling him that one day they would each be the No. 1 player in the world.
Korda’s emergence in the game wasn’t nearly as intense. Growing up, she took six weeks off in the summer to rejuvenate in Europe. Korda played several sports – tennis, gymnastics and figure skating – until settling on golf exclusively.
“Koreans probably hit more balls by the time they’re 18 than Americans and Europeans hit by the time they’re 25,” Song said. “I just witnessed it two weeks ago.
“It’s just different philosophies, different lifestyles. At the end of the day, everyone wants to play on this tour.”
Some just get there quicker than others.