Do you know Jess Korda?
Saturday Afternoon, April 6
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- If you do not know much about Jessica Korda, don’t worry. You’ll learn.
Korda is the daughter of retired professional tennis players Petr Korda and Regina Rajchrtova. Last year, she won her first LPGA title, the Women’s Australian Women’s Open, which was especially cool because her father’s single Grand Slam singles tennis title came in the 1998.
After finishing runner-up in the 2009 U.S. Women’s Amateur and playing on the 2009 U.S. Junior Solheim Cup and the 2010 U.S, Curtis Cup teams, Korda turned pro at 17 and entered LPGA qualifying in the fall of 2010. She finished second.
Now, she’s making a mark on a major championship.
The 20-year-old who is in her third LPGA season shot a third-round 68 to climb into the chase going into the final round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship,
With rounds of 72-70-68 she is 6 under and tied for third. On Saturday, she enjoyed six birdies and just two bogeys. Since No. 11 of Friday’s second round, she has recorded 10 birdies over 26 holes.
“I’m just reading (greens) well and hitting them on the lines that I want,” she said. “So hopefully, I can do that again.”
Even better, she‘s doing in front of family -- her parents, and brother and sister -- she has not seen since January.
“It‘s really nice,” Korda said. “My brother and sister got so big. It was really nice to see everybody and I miss my dad’s humor and my mom’s calmness. And she did my laundry last night, so it was kind of nice.“
There are a lot of people in women’s golf who expect Korda to be the one cleaning up.
She has all the shots, the background and temperament.
“I think a lot of the girls out here are coming out really young now,” she said. “A lot of the girls that I grew up with are starting to come out on tour and we’re kind of having some fun out there. It’s a little different. We’re a little outspoken, more media creative and I think just a little more open towards the fans. It’s great to see and I’m just happy to be a part of it and help the game grow.”
Salas is finding her game, remembering her roots, at Kraft
Friday Afternoon, April 5
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- If you can listen to Lizette Salas tell her story and not get at least a little mushy, then your heart pumps concrete.
Born and raised in Azusa, Calif. -- about 100 miles from this week’s Kraft Nabisco Championship being played at Mission Hills CC -- the daughter of Mexican immigrants grew up and attended the University of Southern California. She graduated in 2011 with a degree in sociology, the first member of her family to earn a college degree.
Golf made that possible.
“This game changed my life,” she said.
Her father was and continues to be the head mechanic at Azusa Greens Golf Course. That’s how, at age seven, she was attracted to the game.
To provide his daughter an opportunity to learn, Ramon Salas began doing favors and odd jobs for the golf club’s head professional in exchange for her golf lessons. He also made her first set of clubs, even drilling holes in the sides to reduce the weight.
She practiced and practiced. She idolized LPGA stars Nancy Lopez and Lorena Ochoa, both of Mexican heritage. And she kept getting better.
Finally, Salas was offered a golf scholarship to USC. All she did there was became the first four-time All-American in USC women’s golf history, and turned professional, qualifying to join the LPGA last season after one year on the Symetra Tour.
And on Friday afternoon in the second round of the Kraft Nabisco, she shot a 4-under 68 to go 6 under through 36 holes, trailing leader Inbee Park by one shot.
Then she took a minute to look back.
“So I started at seven and did not know how to dress, barely had a full set of clubs and got my first pair of shoes at nine,” she said.
After college, when his daughter wanted to pursue the game as a pro, Ramon was again there.
“We decided to take my dad’s 2006 red Tacoma across country three times, just to save money because I didn’t have any sponsors. My dad was my caddie, so that saved a lot, you know.
“But it was a great experience. Just to share lots of stories in the car with my dad, and yeah, we had some tears and laughs and smiles. I would not change it for the world. I think that’s what made me the player I am today.”
By all indication, that would be one with open-ended potential. So far in five events this season, she has three top 10s, including T-4 and T-6 in her most recent starts.
“Definitely, I sometimes feel like I’m playing for not only myself but for my family and people from Azusa, my community, my (USC) Trojan family,” Salas said. “That’s what I learned last year.
“I have been more comfortable in my own skin. I’m not intimidated by anything now. What I think about is I have nothing to lose. I’m not really supposed to be out here -- at least by my story.”
The story, however, is to be continued.
Rising to the Top
Friday Morning, April 5
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- She’s No. 110!
But climbing fast.
With the Kraft Nabisco Championship juiced by high-octane expectations for new Rolex World No. 1 Stacy Lewis, now-challenged No. 2 Yani Tseng, steady and talented Na Yeon Choi and any number of other proven stars, a woman who rests just 109 spots out of the top spot is hogging attention at the season’s first major.
Say hello to Jodi Ewart Shadoff.
“Yeah, I think I had like 20 messages when I got home (Thursday night),” she said. “And my Twitter was blowing up like crazy, which is good because I got more followers.”
Shadoff is a 25-year-old Brit who played college golf at the University of New Mexico and earned her way onto the LPGA by way of the developmental Symetra Tour. In the three seasons since joining the LPGA, her best finish is a T-7 at last year’s Kia Classic. Before this week, she had played in just three major championships, her best showing a T-26 in last year’s KNC.
But now, after shooting even-par 72 Friday morning, Ewart Shadoff is 4-under after 36 holes and on the leader board -- along with Pornanong Phatlum, the co-leader in the clubhouse after the morning wave was complete.
“I’m really comfortable with where my game is,” she said. “So, I’m really happy with there I am. I expect a couple of good rounds.”
Ewart Shadoff is an engaging, chipper woman who seems more intrigued than frightened by her opportunity.
She’s also an interesting study.
Her father was once a professional jockey and also boxed. Her mother ran competitive track and also worked in horse racing.
“So we are a very athletic family,” she said. “I think the competitiveness definitely shines in me, too.”
She is also a newlywed, in January marrying husband Adam Shadoff, a local television sports anchor in Sarasota, Fla. To celebrate, the couple spent their honeymoon in South Africa where they went shark diving in a cage to view Great Whites.
“We were in a boat with about 30 other people,” she said. “They could take eight at a time, so I was like I’m not going first. I’m going to watch the first eight do it and then I watched. It honestly looked really safe. The worst part about it was the water was like minus-something. It was awful being in the water itself. But once you go down and see the sharks, it’s pretty awesome.”
Here’s something that will at least warm Ewart Shadoff’s heart: To honor his wife’s share of the first-round lead, Adam used the KNC to lead his late-night sportscast.
“That,” Jodi said, “must have been really awkward for him to talk about his wife.”
Or, maybe not.
After all, she’s the talk of women’s golf right now.