SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Five years ago, Nelly Korda strolled the fairways of Interlachen Country Club in suburban Minneapolis watching big sister Jessica compete in her first U.S. Women’s Open as a relatively unknown 15-year-old.
Nelly, 9 at the time, was a nervous bundle of energy, even though she never struck a shot. Jessica, with no expectations, made the cut, shot the lowest final round of any player (69) and tied for 19th.
At the time, few had heard of Jessica Korda. Petr, the family patriarch, had been a highly successful professional tennis player who claimed the 1998 Australian Open singles title. While Jessica had been born in Florida, most of her early golf success had come in Europe.
When Nelly, now 14, qualified for the Women’s Open last month, there was considerably more buzz. Jessica, the 2010 U.S. Women’s Amateur runner-up, is an LPGA Tour winner who is ranked in the top 40 in the world.
It would seem to add pressure on Nelly, but she handled her inaugural major championship round – and the post-round interview – on Thursday at Sebonack Golf Club like a veteran. She wasn’t nervous when she stepped onto the 10th tee at 7:07 a.m., where she crushed her first drive.
“It was weird,” said Nelly, who resembles Jessica in physical stature and looks, as well as in her golf swing. “I was like, how am I not nervous? I just went up … and hit it like it was a junior tournament.”
Except there were considerably more spectators, and she was competing against a world-class field. Most would have expected a collapse after an early double-bogey 6 at the 14thhole. Nelly wasn’t fazed.
She birdied the next hole, turned in 3-over 40, then birdied three of her next six holes. When a triple-bogey 6 on No. 7 threatened to spoil her momentum, Nelly closed with back-to-back birdies for a 73.
“That’s more important for me to see than if she makes the cut,” said Petr of Nelly’s finish. “The rebound was nice to see. She just played golf, which was great.”
As he did for Jessica during her amateur days, Petr is caddieing for Nelly. But he says the two possess completely different personalities. He often interacted with Jessica, but he’s more cautious to do so with Nelly.
“I am just trying to calm her down,” said Petr. “Most important, I have to be a dad. Sometimes I have to back off and let her walk.”
Jessica, meanwhile, posted a 70 on Thursday, her best start by two strokes in a Women’s Open.
“I didn't really leave too many [shots] out there … more on the back nine,” said Jessica. “[There were] probably around like four more or five more birdies I could have had.”
Well, she did beat her sister by three strokes.
There are so many past or present University of Southern California players in this year’s field (11) that sophomore Kyung Kim said it seemed like a school practice in the three days leading up to the first round. On Wednesday, Kim played with teammate and 2013 NCAA champion Annie Park and Trojan alum Lizette Salas, and sought advice from both. Salas is competing in her fourth Open and Park has played Sebonack several times, including last year’s French-American Challenge.
Kim, 19, of Chandler, Ariz., had missed the cut in her two previous U.S. Women’s Open appearances, but that could change this week after a 1-under 71 on Thursday, which tied Brooke Mackenzie Henderson, of Canada, for the lowest score by any of the 19 amateurs in the field.
“After the second or third practice round, you start to figure [the course] out,” said Kim, the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links champion. “[But] I never expected myself to shoot under par. I surprised myself. I played really solid today.”
Kim bogeyed her first hole – the par-4 10th – before she settled her nerves. She closed the outward nine in even-par 37, and tallied two birdies over her final four holes.
“After the first two holes, I started to feel comfortable,” said Kim. “I still left a few putts out there.”
Park, meanwhile, was disappointed in shooting a 79 before a throng of friends and family. A Long Island resident who lives 80 minutes from Sebonack, Park had eagerly anticipated this championship.
“I did feel the pressure, but I tried to block it out,” said Park. “It's kind of hard to forget about [the round] because I think that was one of the things coming into this tournament was I had a bad last round (first-round loss at the WAPL) before this … and it was hard for me to get it over with.
“Hopefully, tomorrow is going to be a different day.”
The third current USC player in the field, Doris Chen, shot 74 five days after falling in the WAPL final to Lauren Diaz-Yi, 10 and 9, in Norman, Okla., where she was the equivalent of 13 over par for the 27 holes of the match.
Salas earned low-Trojan honors with a 68, two ahead of 1998 NCAA champion Jennifer Rosales and three in front of Kim.
Michelle Wie’s opening round seemingly ended before it got started. The 2003 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links champion made a quadruple-bogey 8 on the 10th hole, her first of the day. Counted among her eight strokes was a topped third shot from the tall fescue. When Wie failed to find her ball after the allotted five-minute search, she punched out, found the green with her sixth stroke and two-putted.
Wie carded a 10-over 47 on the outward nine, but closed with three birdies on Nos. 6, 8 and 9 to salvage an 80.
“It's tough on this golf course once you get started on the wrong foot,” said Wie. “But hopefully the last three birdies will give me some momentum for tomorrow.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.