Jessica Korda won her first LPGA Tour event in February.
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.
Q: How does it feel to be part of this whole new generation of young players that everybody's counting on for the future of the game?
JK: It's good. There are a lot of expectations, for example, on seeing Lexi [Thompson] deliver and she's done very well. We just want to help grow the game and get all the younger girls inspired to try golf and see if they like it. There's no point in trying to avoid the spotlight. I love what I do and I think I have one of the best jobs out there; I get paid to do what I love. So I can't complain about it. But it's nice to see younger girls -- and boys -- pick up the game of golf. It's one of the sports that you can play with literally anybody. They don't have to be good, or you can be great -- it just depends. You can play with your whole family.
Q: So you learned a lot in year one, then you came out as a sophomore player and went to Australia, without your dad, and you won the Australian Open at Royal Melbourne in a six-way playoff. Take us through what went down.
JK: I'm still trying to understand it. I fell in love with the golf course the first time I stepped on it, and I actually got to play with Lori Kane. She's like a big sister to me out on tour. She bought my celebratory dinner. She's just a really great person. My dad and she got talking last year during the NHL playoffs, and his past half a year we've gotten really close.
Q: What was it like to travel alone?
JK: It was great. I learned how to cook, so that's good. I definitely had some new adventures. I managed to set off a fire alarm in the hotel. I was cooking and there was no way to get the smoke out of my room. I didn't burn anything, but the smoke coming off the chicken set off the fire alarm. And when the alarm started, I had a huge panic. [Laughs.]
Q: And when you found yourself in the lead going into Sunday, what was going through your head?
JK: I was actually really calm. I was very happy, of course -- I'd played really well. I just went back to the hotel, took a shower, cooked myself a dinner and then watched The Parent Trap and went to bed. And then Sunday, I was really nervous. I talked to my parents in the morning and my dad told me to turn off my phone, and I did. But then I was so anxious and so nervous that I called my friend and said, "Just talk to me. Say anything you want, just talk to me." And then he talked to me most of the morning, up until I got to the golf course. I was still quite nervous when I got there, so I started running laps in the parking lot. Then I went into the locker room and just did my thing and came out and I felt a lot better.
Q: What does running laps do?
JK: I have no idea. When I'm stressed, I like to run.
Q: That's cool. Did anybody see you?
JK: Yes, there were quite a lot of people who stopped to see what the heck I was doing. But it calmed me down. I don't know how I won; I definitely think somebody was watching over me.
Q: Now that you've won your first event, what's your next goal?
JK: First of all, now I can actually set a schedule. I know what tournaments I'm going to be in, and I know that I don't have to qualify for pretty much anything. That's a huge relief. But I don't really set that many goals, I just want to have fun out there and enjoy what I do. When a win comes, a win comes. It would be nice to win again hopefully this year, but there are so many great players out there that we'll see what happens. You know, just go out and enjoy the year. I'm really excited to see what the rest of the year brings.
Q: What about the cooking thing, is that something you're going to continue?
JK: We'll see. If I can avoid setting off any more alarms and having any more panic attacks, then we're going to be okay. But I wasn't following any recipes, I was just winging it, and I had really good meals. So maybe I should keep cooking.