Meet The Curtis Cup Team: Jessica Korda
Jessica Korda of Bradenton, Fla., might only be 17, but she is no stranger to international competition. In 2006 at the age of 13, Korda represented the Czech Republic (she holds dual U.S. and Czech citizenship) at the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship in South Africa, breaking 80 all four rounds. She has played in the European Team Championships, European Young Masters, Junior Solheim Cup (for the U.S.) and this past January represented the USA at the Copa de las Americas competition in Argentina. Two years ago, Korda shot a final-round 69 (the lowest of the day) at the U.S. Women’s Open and posted the same final-round score at last year’s Women’s Open. Korda, a quarterfinalist at the 2009 U.S. Women’s Amateur, recently chatted with USGA communications staff writer David Shefter about being selected to the 2010 USA Curtis Cup Team and other golf-related topics.
What was your first reaction upon getting the call that you had made the team?
Korda: I was so happy.
What is the one thing you are looking forward to the most at the Curtis Cup?
Korda: I am so patriotic when it comes to team events like this. I love to wear red, white and blue. I just can’t wait for the competition. One, it’s going to be a lot of fun. But also it’s going to be a great experience.
Your play the past couple of years has been very solid, going back to the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open. Talk about how your game has progressed over the past two years.
Korda: My short game has definitely gotten a lot better. Seeing how the other girls worked and playing with them now, especially two weeks ago [at the Kraft Nabisco Championship], I’ve definitely gotten a lot better.
You have now competed in three professional majors as an amateur. How has that helped you become a better player and handle pressure situations?
Korda: You have so many people out there watching. You don’t want to embarrass yourself, but you want to show them you belong there. You want to prove, not only to yourself, but to the people around you that you’re not someone who is not taking it seriously.
I saw at the Kraft you made a birdie on 18 in your second round to make the cut on the number. Did you realize you needed birdie to play the weekend?
Korda: My dad [who was caddying] did. But I was one under [for the day] on 16 and we made a mistake. You can’t be above the hole there and I unfortunately three-putted. It was so fast that there was no way you could stop the golf ball by the hole. And I lipped out [for birdie] on 17. On 18, my dad was like, What do you want to do? Do you want to go for it [in two] or do you want to lay up? I was like, Hey, it’s cut day. If I make a mistake, I make a mistake. I went for it. I gave it my all. I was a little long. I chipped up to like five feet and made the putt. I was really nervous over the putt. Playing in the [U.S] Women’s Opens, I knew what my body was going to do under the pressure. It’s all about experience. My dad knew where I was [in relation to the cut line]. I had no idea where I was. I didn’t think I was going to make the cut.
How was your experience at the Copa de las Americas event in Argentina this past January?
Korda: It was amazing. The experience, my teammates… we all just meshed really well. And we played really well as well. It was a lot of fun.
What did you learn about yourself playing in a different country under different conditions?
Korda: Because I have played a lot of European tournaments, I’m used to traveling and time change. I’m fine with that. And I know a lot of the players as well, not only through IMG [Academy in Bradenton], but also AJGA (American Junior Golf Association) and European tournaments. I wasn’t star-struck. I love playing in different countries and I had never played in Argentina. The courses were set up in such an amazing way.
The Women’s World Amateur is at the same two courses this October. Is playing in that event a goal?
Korda: The Curtis Cup and [Women’s World Amateur] were definitely at the top of my list.
What was the most memorable moment from the Copa event?
Korda: All the team bonding. It was so much fun. Peter [Uihlein], Nathan [Smith] and Jennifer [Song] were all so funny and so cool. Like the first day we were there, Nathan got really, really burnt [from the sun]. And he was just bright red throughout the whole tournament. He had to wear pants instead of shorts and that was just hilarious.
I also heard that Jennifer Song and USA Captain Steve Smyers played a little practical joke on you.
Korda: That was not funny. I don’t like speeches and Steve and [USGA championship media relations director] Pete [Kowalski] told me I was going to have to make a [victory] speech. And Jen was in on it, too. And I said, No, no, no, please don’t make me do that. And they said, Go over there and Jen will help you write it. And then a couple of minutes before we were supposed to get our trophies, they told me, No, we’re just playing with you. We were just kidding. They could have told me. I was sweating over it.
With all of your international experience, will that help ease the pressure for the Curtis Cup?
Korda: For me, I went to South Africa [in 2006] all by myself just with the team. You can’t always be thinking about, Oh, I’m in a different country or I’m playing a golf course I don’t know. Of course you are in a different country, but you are still on a golf course. You still have your own clubs. You play your game and don’t think about, I’m doing this and I am here by myself and there’s a time change and stuff like that. So I’ve gotten a lot of experience with that.
Even though you’re a Curtis Cup rookie, will you be more comfortable because of the past international experiences?
Korda: But I’ve never played a Curtis Cup. We’re still playing in the U.S., though. I would have more experience if we were playing over in Europe. This is only going to be my second summer [playing full-time golf] in the U.S.
Your father, Petr, played Davis Cup tennis for the Czech Republic. Has he offered any advice about playing this type of team competition? (Note: Petr won the 1998 Australian Open singles title.)
Korda: I’ve already played team events, so we talk about it before [the competition]. When you play team events, you don’t just play for the team. You have to play for yourself as well. If you play for the team, you are going to make a mistake, but if you play for yourself, you are going to make fewer mistakes.
How much foursomes (alternate shot) have you played?
Korda: I think I’ve played alternate shot only like three times in my life and one time was at [Junior] Solheim [Cup]. If you find someone with a similar game as you – and pretty much all of my [Curtis Cup] teammates have a good game –I don’t think matching alternate shot will be that big of a deal.
What about the prospects of playing either foursomes or four-ball (best ball) with fellow teen Alexis Thompson?
Korda: We played best ball at Junior Solheim together, actually, and we did really well. Both of our games are strong. I like being paired up with Lexi. She’s a good player. But then again, I have never played with any of the other [Curtis Cup Team members] in a match format.
You went to Argentina with Jennifer Song, but how much do you know the other girls on the team?
Korda: I know Cydney [Clanton] from AJGA tournaments and I’ve played practice rounds with her before at the Open and the Kraft. I know Tiffany [Lua] from AJGA and she was my Solheim Cup teammate. Lexi I know really well. I don’t know Stephanie Kono at all. She’s the only player I do not know.
You and Jennifer Song are quite unique in that you have dual citizenship, Jennifer with the USA and Korea, and you with the Czech Republic. Did you talk about that in Argentina?
Korda: We talked about it for a little bit. Once you choose the country you want to represent, you are totally committed to that country. We talked about how she represented her country and how I represented mine and what kind of experiences we took out of it. It actually was a lot of fun.
You are on target to graduate from high school next spring. Do you have plans to play in college or are you thinking of turning pro?
Korda: I am going to Q-School for LPGA [as an amateur] and see what happens from there. I’m going this year in September.
What do you think about Alexis Thompson turning pro at 15?
Korda: She’s good enough. She’s got the game. She has a good attitude toward it. She’s fearless. I don’t see a reason why she wouldn’t want to turn pro. I think she’s going to do really well.
What is your schedule like?
Korda: [Prior to the Curtis Cup], I have Scott Robertson [Memorial, in Virginia] and Thunderbird [in Arizona] and in between that I have U.S. Women’s Open qualifier. And the Curtis Cup practices. Then I have the Curtis Cup and if I make it to the U.S. Open, then I have U.S. Open. If I don’t [qualify], I think I have Rolex Tournament of Champions. Then I have the U.S. Girls’ [Junior], U.S. Women’s Amateur and then you have Q-School. So my summer is pretty much boom, boom, boom.
Having played the Kraft with the new grooves, what are your feelings toward using those clubs?
Korda: I switched right after I won SALLY (South Atlantic Ladies Amateur) in January. It took me a couple of months to get used to my clubs because I switched clubs a year before the  SALLY. And right as I was about to get really comfortable with the clubs and knowing exactly what they do, I was told I had to switch. I was like, Oh great, here we go again. The first two weeks I had the [new] grooves, I had a little bit of issues. We tried to switch the shafts and it didn’t really work out too well. I actually played Verizon [Junior] with them and I played really badly. After that, it’s actually gotten a lot better. My short game has gotten a lot better. And because of it, I don’t get so much spin off my higher [lofted] clubs around the greens. I bump and run the ball a lot. The only difference is from tight lies and bunkers. I can’t get as much spin as I used to get.
Did you really notice that much of a difference?
Korda: I noticed in the wedges mostly. In the [regular] irons, it’s an iron. Sometimes you get a flier, but not very often.
With your dad and mom having played professional tennis, how much do you lean on them for advice about when might be the best time to turn pro in golf?
Korda: Both of my parents are fully supportive of me going through Q-School. If Q-School does not work out, I probably will go to school. I am going to go to school anyway. It’s just a matter of going to school and playing golf or if I am just going to school to get an education.
Have you been to Boston before and if the answer is no, what are you most looking forward to seeing there that is not golf-related?
Korda: I love hockey. I think by the time we get there, hockey season will be over.
The Boston Bruins are in the playoffs, so they might still be playing.
Korda: I’m more of a Pittsburgh Penguins fan. Three years ago, it was mostly a Czech team for the [New York] Rangers, so I was all about the Rangers. But now, Sidney Crosby who is in Pittsburgh, he amazes me with his play and so does [Alex] Ovechkin [of the Washington Capitals] as well. Those are the two guys who I love to watch right now.
With your parents both being Czech natives, is hockey the No. 2 sport behind golf?
Korda: It mixes up with tennis. We like watching tennis on TV. I love hockey and I love basketball. I am a [Los Angeles] Lakers fan.