Korda, Kang advance to Women's Amateur final
__CHARLOTTE--__Tell me if you've heard this one before:Jessica Korda faces an All-American-caliber opponent, gets down early in her match but finds her groove (particularly around the greens) and cruises to victory at the U.S. Women's Amateur.
It was the same story, different day for the 17-year-old high school senior-to-be from Bradenton, Fla., who knocked off Canada's Stephanie Sherlock, 4 and 3, in their semifinal match Saturday at Charlotte CC and is one victory away from claiming the oldest title in women's amateur golf.
A member of the victorious U.S. Curtis Cup team this past June, Korda apparently isn't the superstitious sort. Asked if she had allowed herself to think about what it might be like to claim the Robert Cox Trophy, she quickly noted: "I've been thinking about it all week. ... It would mean a lot. The Curtis Cup and this are the highest you can go in amateur golf so this would be amazing."
As was the case in her quarterfinal match with Erynne Lee, Korda found herself trailing after the first hole, making a bogey when she flew her approach shot over the green from inside 100 yards. Yet for the second straight day she also quickly bounced back with a birdie on the second hole to restore her confidence.
"It takes me a little while to figure my opponents out," Korda said. "I mostly need to get comfortable in my own little zone … to get used to being out there. Because every day is different. You can come out and this course isn't the same every day."
Winning the fourth and fifth holes with pars to take a 2-up advantage, Korda played conservatively for the most part as Sherlock, a recent Denver graduate and former first-team All-American, struggled with her swing. When needed, Korda called on her putter to keep control of the match, making a 20-foot birdie putt on the eighth hole (after a bogey on the seventh), then a six-foot par save after hitting her tee ball in the right bunker on the par-3 11th that gave her a 4-up margin.
By day's end, Korda had recorded four birdies to leave herself the equivalent of 14 under par for her first five matches. She's also defeated a opponent who had earned some form of college All-American honors in four of her five matches.
Korda's foe in Sunday's 36-hole final will be 17-year-old Pepperdine sophomore Danielle Kang, 1-up winner in her semifinal draw versus Canada's__Jennifer Kirby__.
The Kang/Kirby match was a see-saw affair at the start, the players exchanging the lead over the first seven holes. As the pair moved to the back nine, Kirby struggled to gain an momentum losing the 11th hole with a bogey to fall 2 down, then three-putting the 14th to lose another hole.
"I was playing very sloppy," Kirby said. "I wasn't hitting it as well as the last few days. I wasn't making the putts I was normally making the last few matches.
"I don't think it was nerves," she continued. "I think I was just trying to press the issue too much."
Yet Kirby wouldn't go away easily. While missing a five-foot birdie try that would have won her the 15th hole, she made a three-footer for birdie on the 16th and a 12-footer for birdie on the 17th to bring the dormie match to the 18th hole.
"I knew that she bogeyed the 18th yesterday and that her match went to extra holes," Kirby said. "I thought if I could get the match to 18, then who knows. Maybe she'd bogey again."
Indeed, a par on the 18th hole the previous day versus Sydnee Michaels would have won the quarterfinal match on the home hole, but Kang instead made a bad three-putt, forcing her to win on the first extra hole. So it was that Kang felt a little deja vu as she hit her approach shot on the 18th green but left herself a tricky 35-foot putt.
"I just told myself yesterday was yesterday," Kang said. "It did cross my mind, three-putting."
Instead of sticking it tight as she had on the 16th and 17th and putting even more pressure on Kang, Kirby hit her approach to 18 feet. When Kang lagged her birdie try to five feet, she watched Kirby miss her birdie try. Kang then confidently made her par putt to close the match.
While knowing that Korda has been playing well all week, Kang said her thought process for the championship match will be no different than how she's approached any other round this week.
"I'm not going to worry about what [Korda] does," said Kang, noting she approaches the round like she was playing stroke play rather than match play. "All the way up to now, I didn't really think about anybody else. I just mind my own business on the golf course. I'm going to pretend she's not there. Just go out and have some fun."
While only three months older than Korda, who begins her senior year in high school this fall, Kang already has a semester of college under her belt, having started at Pepperdine last January after taking additional classes back home in Thousand Oaks, Calif., in order to graduate early from high school.
"I wanted to experience college golf fast," said Kang, who played in six events for the Waves in the spring, led the team with a 73.22 average and won the Bruin Wave Invitational. "I'd done [junior golf] for three or four years. I wanted to see how college golf and amateur golf was."
Graduating from high school on Jan. 8, Kang had three days off before arriving on Pepperdine's campus. The transition was hard, Kang said, because of how quickly it came, but there was also something surreal about being in college.
"It just felt like [going to] camp," Kang said. "Camp without the singing."
Earlier in the week, Korda noted that she will attempt to enter this year's LPGA Qualifying School as an amateur with the thought that she would turn professional if she earned an tour card. Because she doesn't turn 18 until Feb. 27, she must petition LPGA commissioner Michael Whan for a waiver into the event by Aug. 31. (It's expected that the wavier will be granted.)
Korda said Saturday after her semifinal win that she has the letter written and that it will be sent off in the next few days.
Kang, meanwhile, said that she had contemplated going to LPGA Q school this fall as well but, "as of right now, I'm going to college."
Both Korda and Kang have been staying with host families this week and enjoying their company during the idle moments when the golfers are away from the course.
"We made brownies yesterday," said Korda, in addition to watching TV programs on the computer. Korda also went across the street to another home, to visit a handful of chickens that another family raises.
Similarly, Kang has been able to unwind by watching movies and playing board games with the daughters of her host family, The Campbells.
"They're really nice and very welcoming," Kang said.