Korda gets support from family this week at Kraft
PHOTOS: Kraft Nabisco Championship (RD. 3)
View pictures from the third round of the Kraft Nabisco Championships, the LPGA's first major of the year.
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. - Jessica Korda stands in the midst of a cluster of players tied for third here at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. That could work to her advantage as she’s one of many faced with the pressure of posting a number Sunday that would spoil the Inbee Park parade.
Those tied with Korda in third place include Hall of Famer Karrie Webb, major winner Suzann Pettersen and Angela Stanford, the Texan who boasts Saturday’s lowest round, 6-under 66. For Korda, this could be a coronation of sorts, a time when the 6-foot blonde steps out of the shadow of her father, former tennis star Petr, a major champion in his own right. It also would put her squarely in the spotlight as one of America’s rising stars.
“Regina (Jessica's mother) and I will give her a few tips, which could help her,” Petr said. “We’ve been in this situation, and we know what the nerves can do.”
Petr and Regina Korda starting dating while on the tennis circuit in the former Czechoslovakia at age 19. They’re both tall and slim. Regina, a former professional player and Olympian, is striking in her beauty. Petr won the Australian Open at age 30, when Jessica was 4 years old. A USA Today article credits Jessica for telling her nervous father to “win the match” on his way to the court. Petr scissor-kicked and cartwheeled his way into history.
“I do remember him climbing up the wall and running up to me and my mom,” said Jessica, “lifting me up and saying that he won.”
It was to Petr’s delight that Jessica chose golf over tennis, avoiding the obvious pressures she would face. Younger sister Nelly, an equally tall, lanky 14-year-old blonde, has followed in her sister’s footsteps. They watch movies together when “Jessie” is home. Jessica still lives with her parents and two siblings in Bradenton, Fla. When asked if there were any big differences between the look-a-alike sisters, Nelly wisely said, “I haven’t found out yet.”
Sebastian, the youngest Korda at 12, once played hockey but has bravely decided to take after his parents on the tennis courts.
“I believe Sebastian will have difficulty carrying the load,” Petr said. “But he loves it, and we’ll support him.”
What’s interesting about Korda’s LPGA journey isn’t that she skipped college to turn professional. Plenty of kids do that nowadays. No, the most interesting thing about this 20-year-old is that she travels alone. When the Korda clan showed up in Palm Springs this week, it marked the first time she had seen her family since late January – 10 weeks.
“My dad is really good about that,” Korda said. “He knew that it was time to let me go, and my brother and sister do need him a lot more than I would.”
Korda traveled most of this year with Jodi Ewart Shadoff, the early-week leader here at the Kraft. She’s good friends with another 6-foot star, Michelle Wie. The pair can wear heels around each other and not feel silly.
Korda, who won her first LPGA title in Australia, said her parents tell her what they think, not what she should do. She can make her own decisions, and sometimes, her own mistakes. It’s a refreshing approach on a tour that’s overloaded with overprotective parents.
Of course the first time Korda found herself alone – in Taiwan during her rookie year – it was hard to sit alone. Go to dinner alone. Find her way in a foreign country alone. But, eventually, other players took notice and took her in. Now she’s completely comfortable navigating the world without a parent or a manager or a swing coach.
For years, Petr Korda kept his daughter on the slow path to success. He limited her playing schedule as a teenager, allowing her to spend summers in Europe. She competed in her first major in 2008 at the U.S. Women’s Open at Interlachen. Korda tied for 19th at the event, and interestingly enough, Inbee Park won.
Petr said his daughter is more business now in her third year on the LPGA. She does have a boyfriend, Johnny DelPrete, a fellow golf pro who is in town this week for the PGA Tour Canada Q-School.
“She settled down,” he said. “She has a great boyfriend. It kind of reminds me of what we were going through. I started dating Regina when we were 19 years old. We’ll give (Jessica) some tips. But she’s the one who has to choose her next steps.”
Perhaps that next step will be into Poppie’s Pond. She’s got a solid scissor-kick.