This is when it gets real. Prior to arriving at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Justin Thomas of Team USA said all the right things about representing his country and the excitement that he felt playing golf for a medal. He admitted that growing up he never stood over a ball on the putting green and said to himself, “this is to win an Olympic gold medal.” But that’s because golf is relatively new to the games. Maybe the next generation will feel differently. For Thomas, it wasn’t until he was on the ground in Tokyo that the magnitude of being an Olympian hit him.
“This is the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of,” Thomas said. “Going to the village and checking out the USA building. It’s so hard to explain. It’s unbelievable.
“Maybe it’s just because being an Olympian, you’re known as the best athlete in the world. That’s something golf isn’t always related to. Maybe it’s just the team camaraderie, seeing every country together especially in a day and age where that doesn’t seem to be what’s in. It brings people together and it brings a common goal, cheering for your team. That’s something that’s so cool about sports and another reason that makes the Olympics so special.”
Now it’s the women’s turn. One of the favorites, American Jessica Korda, reached out to Thomas to get some insight.
“I was grilling him when he first landed here,” Korda said. “I was like, ‘How is it? What's everything like? I need to know details.’ He even texted me this morning (Monday) and goes, ‘I'm dying to know what you think about the golf course.’ So, it's nice to be able to share this with something that you grew up with.”
Korda and Thomas have known each other since childhood. They both live in South Florida now where they remain good friends. “Yeah, it's just a cool experience,” Korda said. “He's like, ‘Wait until you land here, it's going to hit you.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, I can't wait.’ And he's right. I mean, the whole experience for us, I don't feel like we're really prepared what it was going to be like. And like he said, it just kind of hits you when you get here.”
Another experience has hit Jessica now that she is on the ground in Tokyo: sharing these Olympic moments with her sister, Nelly.
“I didn't know what to expect,” Jessica said. “We walked around the Olympic village a couple of days ago when we got here and what an experience that was, just itself. Then watching the guys yesterday battle out for bronze and seeing just what it means, it's just such a cool experience and any time we get to represent the United States and wear red, white and blue is just such an honor. And what an exciting time to be able to play. Sad, obviously, that we can't have fans out and really get kind of the experience that we were looking forward to, but still extremely grateful to be here.”
Nelly, who sat next to her sister and took questions on Monday, nodded in agreement. “It's been pretty cool especially walking around the Olympic village, putting on the USA gear every single day has been really exciting,” the younger Korda sister said. “Even like the traditions of the pin swapping, I think that's really cool. I'm already kind of decked out. I've only been here two days and it's been a lot of fun. It's something that I'm always going to look back on and really cherish.”
The sisters and the story of their remarkable athletic family – father, mother and younger brother, all world-class tennis professionals (their mother Regina was also an Olympian) and both Jess and Nelly in the top-15 in the Rolex Rankings – is well known to LPGA Tour fans. But the Olympics is a chance for the world to get to know them.
“I don't know what I would do without Jess,” Nelly said. “I think we had a conversation like a couple days ago, I was like, ‘So, you're going to be playing until the end of my career too, right? Like, you're going to be out here me. You're not going to leave me, right?’ I'm just super grateful to have her, honestly, every step of the way.”
Jessica nodded and said, “For me it's just been really fun. Not that (having Nelly out here) saved my career, but I it refreshed it. It's and it's to be out here (on Tour) and I did a lot of it myself. They (my siblings) were growing up. I have a younger brother and a younger sister, so it's not like my parents could come out every week and travel with me. I did a lot of it on my own. It gets to be a lot and you forget what normal life is like. That balance kind of just blurs a little bit. Then just having (Nelly) come out (on Tour), it really refreshed a lot of the love of the game and the love for the Tour and kind of just like wanting to be out here and doing this with her.”
Both are LPGA Tour winners in 2021. Nelly, who became a major champion at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship the last week of June, is the No.1-ranked player in the world. They are fierce competitors. They are patriots who relish every opportunity play golf for their country. But most of all, they are family, a bond that exceeds all others. And one that will be on full display for the world throughout the rest of the week at these Olympics and they both play golf on the LPGA Tour.