Jessica Korda credits sister Nelly for reviving her golf career
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- It's not every day when an older sister willingly gives her younger sibling credit.
Credit for anything -- especially for a career spark that translated into an LPGA tournament win earlier this year for eighth-year player Jessica Korda.
"I'm going to say that Nelly has revived my LPGA Tour career," Jessica Korda said earlier this week at the ANA Inspiration, where she is in third place after two rounds at 9 under, trailing tournament co-leaders Sung Hyun Park of South Korea and Sweden's Pernilla Lindberg at 12-under 132.
Korda birdied three of her last four holes on Friday to move within 3 shots of the lead.
"She's new and everything is amazing to her," said Korda, 25, of her sister, Nelly, who is in her second LPGA Tour season. "The more you hear the youngsters talk about [being on the LPGA Tour], you just see the hunger in their eyes. Having her out here has [shaken] things up for me in a very good way."
Case in point: Last year, Jessica posted four top-10 finishes with a season-best tie for second at the culminating CME Group Tour Championship. She had no wins, however.
Fast-forward to 2018, and Jessica won her first tournament of the year at the Honda LPGA Thailand with a four-round score of 25-under 263 in a week that included a career-low 10-under 62 in the second round.
Entering this week's ANA Inspiration, she has two top-10s in three starts.
"I was hitting the ball really well," Jessica said of her winless 2017 season, which was Nelly's rookie year. "I just needed a couple more putts to drop."
"[But] it's really who gets the putter going that is on top of the leaderboards," she added. "You have to be 15 to 20 under if you want to win."
While Nelly was cutting her teeth on the LPGA Tour last year with wide-eyed enthusiasm, Jessica was constantly nursing her upper extremities and dealing with daily headaches.
She was forced to withdraw from the 2017 U.S. Solheim Cup due to a wrist injury that, coupled with her chronic headaches, made for a very long season. Pain and discomfort from a genetic orthodontic condition, which caused the headaches, finally warranted double jaw surgery last December.
The surgery left Jessica's face and jaw sore and bruised and required her to go on a liquid diet. Facial numbness also required her to watch herself eat in a mirror so she wouldn't miss her mouth or inadvertently push a utensil into the tender, surgically repaired areas of her face.
"It was tough to see her this offseason," said Nelly, 19, who is tied for 16th at 4-under 140 on Friday after two rounds. "But she finally got relief from the headaches."
And while the offseason surgery was far from a vacation, Jessica began learning this year how it felt not to endure chronic pain.
"I didn't realize how much pain I was in before, or how annoying it was," she said. "I [had] bone on bone on one side. I had a lot going on."
And the difference after the surgery heading into the 2018 season has been surprising, even to her.
The change, she said, has been "just waking up with no headache, being able to go through day-to-day stuff and not constantly massaging my jaw or popping an Advil or [thinking] I needed to drink more [because I was] dehydrated."
It also has allowed Jessica, who has five career wins and 27 top-10 finishes, to ramp up her performance from tee to green this year.
The 5-foot-11 player currently averages 270.4 yards off the tee, but she also has a deft putting touch that has her leading the LPGA in putting average (28.50 strokes per round), scoring average (68.25), putts per greens in regulation (1.65), rounds under par (11 in 12 rounds), rounds in the 60s (8) and eagles (5).
"This year, I've honestly been feeding off what I was doing last year," she said. "[I'm] trying to figure out practice and how much I can push myself."
And with younger sister Nelly eagerly pushing for her own LPGA success in their perennial sibling rivalry, along with her dramatically improved health this season, Jessica seems happy to tip her cap to her sister for her 2018 results so far.
"We always want to beat each other, whether it's her trying to kick me out of the top 10 by making a birdie on the last hole or whether it's me trying to make a couple more birdies so I can win [a new] purse [from her] at the end of the year," Jessica said.
"Whatever it is we bet on, it's always just fun to have someone like her out on the tour," Jessica added. "It's a lonely, lonely, lonely life and having your sister here just makes it so much better."
But even though Jessica knew her sister's rookie season would have its challenges last year, she didn't hover. She would offer suggestions and support, while letting Nelly find what worked best for her.
"She just let me be," said Nelly. "She was there when I needed her, but we really didn't play that many practice rounds together. She knows I'm an individual out here and I need to learn the ropes myself."
While there have been numerous siblings in sports, including tennis sisters Venus and Serena Williams, football brothers Eli and Peyton Manning, and golf siblings Annika and Charlotta Sorenstam, Dina and Danielle Ammaccapane and currently Moriya and Ariya Jutanugarn, the Korda sisters likely benefit as much from their family's athletic DNA as from each other.
Their parents are former Czech professional tennis players Petr Korda and Regina Rajchrtova, and their younger brother, Sebastian Korda, 17, currently ranks No. 1 in the world's International Tennis Federation (ITF) junior rankings.
"I want my sister to play well, I want my brother to play well ... and I'll always be their biggest cheerleader once I'm done," said Jessica.
"It's friendly competition because we both want to succeed," agreed Nelly. "We push each other and whenever she's playing well, I want to play well, too."
The Korda sisters will get that chance this weekend with both advancing into Saturday's third round at Mission Hills Country Club.
This time, Nelly will have another year of LPGA experience under her belt, and Jessica will be healthy and hungry for her first major championship.
The way they see it, it's a win-win for the family, with the sisters competing for season-ending expensive handbags at the other's expense, or a hug at the end of the week.
Win, lose or draw, the bond they share as tour players and sisters is always worth a few less strokes each week -- as well as a lifetime of support valued far more than any tournament trophy.