Jessica Korda comes up aces on LPGA Tour

Jessica Korda will be taking on the best in the game this week at the $2.5 million Wegmans LPGA Championships at the Locust Hill Country Club in Pittsford, N.Y. Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Jessica Korda was born to be a tennis player.

Her dad, Petr Korda, a spiky-haired Czech nicknamed “Woodstock” after the Peanuts character, was the 1998 Australian Open champion and was ranked as high as No. 2 in the world.

Her mom, Regina Rajchrtova, reached a career-high ranking of No. 26 in April 1991 and made it to the fourth round twice at the U.S. Open before knee injuries ended her tennis career in 1992.

But just because it seemed destined for Jessica to follow in her parents’ tennis sneakers didn’t mean it was going to happen.

“I just didn’t fall in love with tennis,” the 19-year-old Korda said. “I love watching it and I don’t mind playing it. I never felt like I wanted to do it. At a young age I just really didn’t feel like running.”

The Kordas were not of the pushy tennis parent mold, so they let their daughter find her own passion. And she did. She preferred a scenic setting. She preferred shoes with spikes. She preferred to swing a club at a small, pock-marked ball.

“At a young age my parents didn’t force me to do a sport, so it was more of what I wanted to do, and golf was just perfect,” said Korda, currently No. 81 in the LPGA’s Rolex Rankings. “I could play golf with my whole family and it didn’t matter how old or how young or how good or how bad you are. You can play with anybody.”

This week, Korda will be playing with the best in the game at the $2.5 million Wegmans LPGA Championships at the Locust Hill Country Club in Pittsford, N.Y., one of four majors on the LPGA Tour.

Korda’s dedication to golf led her to the top of the game at a young age. By 17, she was ranked No. 1 among non-professionals and was a finalist at the U.S. Amateur Championships. In 2010, she earned her LPGA Tour Card.

And in early February of this year, Korda discovered that Australia is clearly Korda country.

Making her 16thstart as an LPGA Tour player, Korda, then 18, captured her first career title, the Women’s Australian Open at Royal Melbourne. Her victory came in a nail-biting six-player playoff where she made a 25-foot birdie on the second extra hole for victory. She was the sixth-youngest woman to win an LPGA title, and the fourth-youngest to win at a 72-hole event.

What did Korda do to celebrate? The 5-foot-11 blonde borrowed her dad’s signature move: the flying scissor kick. It was the gymnastics offering he delivered when he won his lone Grand Slam title in Melbourne.

“I did the kick for him,” Korda said. “I’m not sure I’ll keep doing it or if I did it because it was in Melbourne.

“It was a great experience, especially to be able to win it there. It was awesome. I didn’t have the best of years in 2011, but I worked really hard in the offseason, so it was nice to see it pay off.”

Korda’s confident that her all-around game will be her ticket to LPGA stardom. She also understands that success doesn’t come easily and takes a lot of hard work and determination.

Since winning the Australian Open, Korda’s best result has been a 17th-place finish at the Sybase Match Play Championships in May. In all, she’s played six events this year and she missed the cut at the Kraft Nabisco Championships and Kia Classic.

Former tennis great Ivan Lendl, an eight-time Grand Slam champion, has known Korda since she was born. He also watched his offspring dismiss tennis to pursue golf. Three of Lendl’s five daughters -- Marika and Isabelle (University of Florida) and Daniela, nicknamed “Crash” (University of Alabama) play collegiate golf. Korda and the Lendl sisters often traveled to junior tournaments together.

“She’s a great kid,” Lendl says of Korda. “She wants to do well and she works hard. She hits it long and she hits the ball high. So no matter how difficult the conditions in terms of greens -- the tougher the greens are in terms of pin positions and the firmness of the greens -- she’ll get to the pins because she hits it long and high.”

As a youngster, Korda -- the oldest of three Korda kids -- vividly remembers traveling on the tennis tour with her parents. Born in the United States, she was initially raised in both her parents’ native Czech Republic and the west coast of Florida. But eventually the family settled full-time in the Tampa area.

“I used to do two schools up until fifth grade,” she said. “We split our time, so it ended up half and half. I had pretty steady friends over there and here. Little difficult since we didn’t have Facebook to stay in touch with your friends. But it was really interesting and a learning experience.”

In the big picture, Korda eagerly salutes the Stars and Stripes.

“I’m just an American citizen,” Korda said. “I’ve always been very, very, very proud to be an American. I have this very strong patriotic pride thing ever since I was little. I always feel American, but in certain situations I’ll feel more European than American.”

Having been raised as budding professional athletes themselves, the Kordas were adamant that their daughter have a normal childhood. That included mandatory time away from golf.

“Either I didn’t play in December or in the summer when we’d go back to the Czech Republic,” she said. “I think every person is different. I’m very similar to my mom and dad and they wanted me to just enjoy my childhood.”

Although Korda, who graduated from the IMG Pendleton School (Bradenton, Fla.) last year, chose the pro route rather than going to college, she’s been able to occasionally tap into the college experience via friends, including the Lendls.

“I’m really close with all my friends in college, so I can go and get the college experience without going to school,” Korda said. “I prefer to play golf. For me it doesn’t feel like a job. I’m getting to do what I love and I’m getting paid for it.”

Korda’s dad has taken an active role with her golf and done his share of caddie detail, although he wasn’t in Australia to witness her first win. Mom is involved with everything else, most especially as a fashion consultant.

“He’s been caddying for me since I was 13,” she said. “He taught me a lot on the bag. He taught me how to stay calm and how to play match play.”

Only time will tell if Korda permanently adopts her dad’s scissor kick or comes up with her own signature celebratory style.

But Korda seems sure that she will be winning -- and celebrating -- again.

“I have high expectations,” she said. “Coming from my parents, I’ve always been really competitive. I like to win. Winning a title was a big goal of mine, so I’m so glad that it’s happened.

“But now I’m even more hungry.”