March 15 2012, Ward ClaytonJessica Korda knows where to turn for some high-level advice, and it paid off handsomely for the first winner of the 2012 LPGA season.
A couple months before winning the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open in early February, Jessica’s father, former tennis pro Petr Korda, took Jessica to visit Jack Nicklaus to receive some advice on her game. The winner of a record 18 men’s major championship titles, Nicklaus welcomed Jessica to The Bear’s Club, his Jupiter, Fla., home course. The introduction was made by Betsy Nagelsen McCormack, a former tennis professional and the widow of IMG founder Mark McCormack, Nicklaus’s longtime agent. It was a similar scenario to when Charl Schwartzel picked Nicklaus’s brain before winning the 2011 Masters Tournament and when Rory McIlroy talked with Nicklaus soon before capturing the 2011 U.S. Open.
“The thing I tried to impress upon these kids is that everybody is an individual and everybody does things differently,” Nicklaus said in late February. “You’ve got to learn how to do things your way, how to play within yourself. How do you get it in your brain when you come down the stretch [in a tournament], you’re not going to worry … whatever names are on the board? You never worry about that. I had to worry about me. I’m the only guy I can control. So I’ve got to get into their heads to find out what they’re thinking.”
Korda responded positively to the input. She held the third-round lead at Royal Melbourne, lost it in the final round and then rallied late to join a six-player playoff. She won the LPGA’s season-opening tournament with a 25-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole and was among the tournament’s longest drivers, with a 274-yard average (currently tied for seventh on the LPGA). At age 18, the 5-foot-11 Korda became the fourth-youngest winner of a 72-hole LPGA Tour event.
Korda returned home to Bradenton, Fla., after the win and has had quite the experience there also. She was paired with World Golf Hall of Famer Tony Jacklin in a tournament in Bradenton on Feb. 27, her 19th birthday. Then she got a second visit with Nicklaus on March 1 when Jessica and younger sister Nelly, 13, played nine holes with Nicklaus at The Bear’s Club. On the first hole, Nicklaus hit a “pretty good drive” and Jessica was 30 yards past him with a half-sand wedge remaining to the green. He worked with them both on using their lower body more to enhance the longevity of their swings. Four days later, Nicklaus was in the same pairing with another young LPGA star, Lexi Thompson, during the Seminole Golf Club Pro-Member in Juno Beach, Fla.
“They are two terrific talents,” Nicklaus said of the Korda sisters. “They are both nice young women who want to learn, and I am delighted to help them.”
Korda is scheduled to play her second tournament of the season, March 22-25 in the Kia Classic at La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, Calif.
“What am I telling them?” Nicklaus said. “Maybe I better write it down . . . I never thought I’d be a psyche coach.”