Q&A: Jessica Korda
The New Girl
She's 19, refreshingly quirky and immensely talented. Add Jessica Korda to the promising list of young LPGA Champions.
Q: After a so-so freshman year on the LPGA Tour, you came out of nowhere to win the first event of 2012, the Women's Australian open. What changed?
Jessica Korda: I did a lot of growing up in 2011. Going out on tour was like being thrown into the deep end of the pool, and I was not prepared for what pro life is like. I was still in high school and had a hard time finding balance. But I got some advice from Jack Nicklaus (we have a mutual friend) at the end of the year, and he put a lot of things in perspective. He told me that balance is the most important thing in life--and when I start mastering that is when I'm going to be the happiest.
Q: Your parents were both international tennis stars (Petr Korda was ranked No. 2 in the world in 1998). What made you choose golf?
JK: The rumor is that when I was younger, I didn't like to sweat and I didn't like to run, and both of those things are kind of important in tennis. I was introduced to a lot of sports as a child: I did gymnastics, figure skating, tennis and golf, and I dabbled a little bit in ballet. I just never fell in love with tennis the way I did with golf.
Q: Your dad says you're a pretty good tennis player.
JK: If I could serve, I'd be not so bad.
Q: How did American audiences not hear more about you until now?
JK: I grew up in Florida but spent summers in the Czech Republic and played for the Czech Republic national team until I was 15--I had dual citizenship. When I finished 19th in the US Women's Open at age 15, I was playing under the Czech Republic flag. My dad wanted me to fly under the radar. He wanted me to be able to just enjoy my childhood and my freedom, have fun and not have to go do interviews and things like that.
Q: So you feel like you've had a nice balance?
JK: Yeah, I haven't been robbed of my childhood at all.
Q: Your dad told me that you guys are purposely taking things slow and not playing a full schedule even this year?
JK: That's right. I'm young and I've got a whole career in front of me. My dad wants me to enjoy my time being a kid for one more year.
Q: He said it's not a sprint but a marathon. That sounds like a very smart way to look at things. What kind of golfers are your parents?
JK: My mom actually can't play. When she played tennis, she broke her knee cap. She had surgery, but back then, they didn't have the technology they do now. So they told her she'd be lucky if she could walk and play again, and my mom took that as a challenge. The strong person that she is, she made to 25th in the world -- like my dad says, on one leg. But unfortunately that came with back problems as well, so she got her golf handicap but then she had to stop playing. So my mom's my number one cheerleader. And my dad's a scratch handicap.
Q: Your dad caddied for you last year but he's not going to be on the bag this year?
JK: No, I don't think so. He definitely doesn't want to. If I don't find anybody to caddie for me, he's more than willing to step in. But I know he'd rather stay home with my brother and sister. My sister is a new teen as of July, and my brother [who's 11] is playing a lot of tennis now. He's the only one. My sister loves golf.
Q: Who comes with you when you travel on tour?
JK: It's mostly my dad, but I just did four weeks by myself in Australia. I don't like taking my dad away from my sister and my brother. Unfortunately there's no way I can rent a car or anything like that. So the tournaments where I can have transportation and stuff, I don't think he will be coming this year.
Q: How old do have to be to rent a car?
JK: Twenty-five if you don't want to pay the extra insurance. The insurance is the thing that kills it. But a lot of the tournaments do a really good job with the transportation.
Q: What has growing up in two countries done to you?
JK: I think I'm more accepting and I know how to adapt pretty well to situations. I know how to travel. I don't really have a problem going to other countries. I'm very open and I get along with girls and guys from all countries, because I know what it feels like to be an outsider on both sides.