LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA | In her sixth career win, Jessica Korda finally cried. But the emotions had nothing to do with how she won the season-opening Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions – a final-round 66 to reach 24-under and a 25-footer for birdie on the first playoff hole to beat third-round leader Danielle Kang. Nor did the tears have anything to do with the grit she showed all week, bouncing back from a lackluster Friday round with a 16-under par weekend.
Jessica’s eyes only welled when asked what kept her motivated through the downtimes, which, in the last few years, have included a crippling hand and wrist injury and major jaw surgery to relieve migraines.
“My family,” Korda said without hesitation, her lower lip beginning to tremble. “They're always there to pick me up when I'm down. Let me tell you, I've been down. My family is everything. They're my biggest support system. They believe in me more than I believe in myself.”
It almost seemed like destiny that a Korda would win on Sunday, even though Jess started the final day two shots behind Kang with Nelly six shots behind. For the first time, the sisters played with each other in the final group in the final round of a tournament, a pairing that fans and the media have been clamoring to see since both Kordas made it to the tour five years ago.
What did the Kordas think about it finally happening?
“You know, it was like another day,” Jessica said. “I think everyone hyped it up so much around us that we were just like, ‘Eh.’ We just had a really good day. Obviously, I loved seeing her make birdies. And I caught myself rooting for her for a couple of holes. I was like, ‘You're still playing against her.’ But then I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever. Doesn't matter.’ She played some fantastic golf. She beat the two of us today.”
Nelly shot a bogey-free 64 and finished two shots out of the playoff. As good as that round was, she missed a couple of short putts that might have made the finish even better. But as Jessica put it, “I think just having that motivation and also the calmness of her attitude and just having a nice chat and good stroll out there definitely helped me.”
It seems only appropriate that the player who shot only the fifth 60 in LPGA Tour history and the first one since 2008 would end up winning. It also couldn’t have worked out better for the family. A week ago, Jess and Nelly’s brother Sebastian advanced to his first ATP final. And Mardy Fish, who won the celebrity portion of the Diamond Resorts event, said that Sebi is at least on the list of possible captain’s picks for the U.S. Davis Cup team.
More than anything, though, Jessica was thrilled to capture her first win in front of her parents, the ever-supportive Petr and Regina, world-class tennis players who marched every step this week with both their daughters.
“First time I've ever won in front of my parents,” she said. “It was my dad's 53rd birthday yesterday. It was just a very good week.”
Athletic families are usually close. Behind almost every great golfer is a great parent, patiently watching, carrying snacks, running errands, and listening to the frustrations and complaints when things don’t go well. The Kordas are that and so much more. Regina and the two sisters were in the Bahamas the week Sebi won the Australian Open Junior tennis title. All three stayed up most of the night streaming the event from Melbourne on their computer. When Nelly won her first event at the 2018 Taiwan Swinging Skirts LPGA, Jessica was home in Florida weeping like a baby in front of her computer screen in the dark.
This week, the sisters stayed next door to each other. They spent Sunday morning chilling out in the Four Seasons hotel where they had a leisurely breakfast together before warming up. And after the win, their parents accepted congratulations from volunteers and the smattering of fans in attendance, although they did their best to deflect all praise back to their daughter.
And how will that daughter celebrate her sixth victory?
“I live on the other side of Florida. I'm going to go grab Charlie (her 3-year-old goldendoodle),” Korda said. “Poor kid has been in the hotel room by himself. We are going to go grab Charlie and drive home.
“This is the first time I am going to be able to celebrate a win, so I'm pretty excited about it. Usually there is the next week and the next week and the next week. Now that we have five weeks off, I'm going to take some time to really soak this in. Even yesterday everyone was saying, ‘Are you going to celebrate your 60?’ You don't have time to celebrate the 60 because you have the next day.
“So, I’m just going to slow it down for a week and then really enjoy it.”