RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – It wasn’t long ago that Jessica Korda missed the cut in all five majors. Actually, she missed the cut in eight of 10 majors from 2015-2016. It’s a startling stat for a talent-rich player who has won five times on the LPGA.
But this isn’t the same Korda. Not by a long shot, or a short shot actually, given how much her touch around the greens has improved since she began working with David Whelan. Now she has the all-around game to make a goat the big ones, and she put forth a fine effort to start her eighth ANA Inspiration, posting a 5-under 67 for a share of second, trailing Ayako Uehara by one shot. Amateur Albane Valenzuela, a sophomore at Stanford, also sits at 5 under along with the exuberant Ha Na Jang.
Korda boils down the early major miscues to excess pressure.
“Instead of coming into it like a normal event,” she said, “obviously seeing everything around you and the atmosphere, the people, the interest, and obviously what it would be like to be a major champion, I think you just sometimes get so caught up in that that you forget to play your own game and concentrate on what you need to do.”
A more-relaxed Korda, who is also finally pain-free thanks to major jaw surgery over the offseason, said she feels that with her spiffy new short game she can better attack the par 5s at the Dinah Shore Course, something she certainly did on the ninth, rifling a driver off the deck from 248 to the back fringe. Korda played the par 5s in 4 under on Thursday. Coming into this event she leads the tour in eagles, rounds under par, putting and scoring. Korda’s 68.25 scoring average is 0.70 lower than her nearest competitor, rookie Jin Young Ko.
“She was struggling with (short game) when I started with her,” said Whelan. “It put so much pressure on her long game. She stood on the fairway thinking if she missed the green she was going to make bogey. I think it has given her more confidence to be a little bit more aggressive from the fairway. … It’s not where it needs to be, but it’s still a helluva lot better than it was.”
Petr Korda watched every minute of TV coverage when the LPGA was in Asia as his eldest won in Thailand and Nelly came oh-so-close in Singapore. He’s a background kind of dad, preferring to give the spotlight to his three children. The Grand Slam champ was in the desert not long ago watching son Sebastian compete in a tennis tournament. He’s back this week walking the fairways of the Dinah Shore alongside wife Regina, a former Olympian who rose to No. 25 in the world tennis rankings.
Petr said in a recent interview that too much focus was being placed on the jaw surgery. The uptick in Jessica’s game had more to do with maturity, he said, doing what she needs to do. When asked to expand on that, Petr laughed and said he wouldn’t reveal his secrets.
Father and daughter have talked about what it takes to peak at the majors, but again, Jessica said, it all comes down to the ability to put the distractions aside and play golf. One good distraction: Her puppy Charlie, a miniature Goldendoodle who has his own Instagram account.
“I had a totally new dynamic this morning where I had to think about what time I need to get up to make sure that I took Charlie out to go to the bathroom and make sure he had enough time to eat, and I had enough time to eat,” said Korda.
No word yet on whether or not the puppy can swim.