PHOENIX – Jessica Korda has a head cold now. The first thing she wanted to do after an opening 3-under 69 at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup was take a nap.
Her face is still numb from major jaw surgery and she’s back on a liquid diet. Brushing her teeth causes considerable pain.
But the golf, well, it has never looked better.
Korda, 25, opened with five birdies on her first six holes at Wildfire Golf Club. Younger sister Nelly, playing in the group behind, couldn’t help but notice.
The Korda sisters are a hot topic these days on the LPGA. One week after Jessica won in Thailand on Feb. 25, Nelly missed a short birdie putt on the 72nd hole on March 4 in Singapore that would’ve put her in a playoff with Michelle Wie. Jessica put her arm around her teary-eyed sister as they walked toward the clubhouse.
“She was like ‘I lost it,’ and I was like ‘No, you didn’t,” Jessica said. “I’m trying to be positive and she doesn’t want me to be positive.”
Nelly, 19, just wanted to vent.
“I know the first win is kind of like the hardest win,” said Nelly.
Jessica: “So is the second and the third and the fourth.”
The Kordas are one of two sets of sisters on the LPGA, joining Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn. All four are capable of winning any given week on tour. Jessica trails leader Karine Icher by two strokes early on at the Bank of Hope. Nelly sits five back at even par.
While the Jutanugarns share all the same coaches, the Kordas haven’t always been on the same page. Nelly was the first to switch to swing coach David Whelan, and Jessica followed in 2016.
Both Kordas, in separate interviews, credited Whelan for turning around their games.
“My swing was God-awful,” said Nelly. “He just really, like, rebuilt my golf game.”
Nelly appreciates that Whelan keeps things simple. The way golf should be, she said.
Jessica appreciates the fact that she now has a short game that’s worthy of a world-class player.
“I used to get so frustrated missing greens because I was like, that’s an automatic bogey,” Jessica said. “I knew how hard I would have to work just to make par.”
Exactly how bad was it?
“It was like really, really, really bad,” Jessica said. “Like if I was 40 yards out, I would probably want to putt it.”
Jessica said her father, Petr, a Grand Slam tennis champ, always said her game would mature slower than others. Petr made sure from the start that each of his kids led a balanced life. That they’d never be pushed into too much too soon.
Now Jessica, a five-time winner on the LPGA, feels like a complete player. Couple that with the jaw surgery ridding her of chronic headaches and poor sleep, and she’s on the road to reaching her full potential.
On the par-5 15th Thursday, Jessica hit driver off the deck from 240 to the front and lipped out the putt for eagle from 15 feet. It marked the first time she’d tried that shot in competition.
But as the wind kicked up on her back nine and temperatures dropped, Jessica started to struggle. She had avoided this kind of weather at all costs during recovery.
“If you guys are going numb,” she said to reporters, “just think about how my lips are turning blue.”
Jessica underwent reconstructive jaw surgery to correct an overbite in early December. She relied on her mother for everything in the weeks that followed, from showering to dressing to eating. Every two hours she was given medication.
“It was like having a 6-foot baby, but worse,” she said.
It was tough for Nelly to see her strong, older sister in such a state. In Thailand, Jessica’s first start in 2018, Nelly rushed to sign her scorecard so that she could get out to the 18th green in time to shower Jessica with beer.
“She crushed it,” said a proud Nelly, who is poised to do the same.