LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA | She should have known when things got quiet. Jessica Korda knew that she was on a roll in the third round of the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions. But like most players who get in the zone, she didn’t do the math.
Her celebrity playing partners did, though. “It was absolutely amazing,” said Fox News host Bret Baier, who played on Saturday with Korda and stood witness to a career low round of 60, the first 60 shot on the LPGA Tour since Paula Creamer did it at the Marathon LPGA Classic way back in 2008.
Baier, who appeared to be at least as excited as Korda when the final birdie went in on the par-3 18th, said, “What we were trying to do is stay out of the way. Toward the end we were nervous, so we tried to get out of the way as much as we could. But she was fantastic. And I think she could have shot 59 really easy.”
First the nuts and bolts. Korda opened with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 and then reeled off seven straight pars – nothing special, just a ho-hum third around. Then, she made the turn and flipped a switch. “On the back nine I don't know what happened,” Korda said. “I just turned it up. I had a lot of great looks and we were just really relaxed all day. I hit some really good shots. I didn't have too many long putts. So definitely ball striking obviously helped.”
Birdies at 10, 11 and 12 moved her to 13-under and into third place behind her sister Nelly and tournament leader Danielle Kang. A par on the par-5 13th seemed to slow the momentum. But then she turned on the afterburners. More short birdies at 14, 15 and 16 made everyone stand a little straighter. Then on 17, a par 5, she hit a 4-iron second shot from 200 yards that nestled 18 feet below the hole. When that putt went in, people held their breath.
“I think she was 9-under on the back nine,” Baier said. “So after about four of those you're like, wait a second. What's happening here? And then we were really looking at her game. It was her best round ever and it was really fun to watch.”
On the par-3 18th, Korda hit 6-iron to 9 feet, right below the hole, leaving her a relatively straight look, one she poured right in the center.
“It was a pure courtesy and joy to be able to watch somebody have it going like that,” said NFL star Larry Fitzgerald, the third member of the group. “I've seen a lot of people playing well. But to see her demeanor, how she was completely engaged and staying in the moment was so much fun. I'm so happy Bret and I were able to see it in person.
“The shot she hit on 17 - she had about 200 yards in, a long carry, two-tiered green,” Fitzgerald said. “She stood up there and hit that shot and it did not move one iota. Then she rolled that putt in. And the shot she hit on 18 was unbelievable. She played the contour of the green. She hit it exactly where she wanted and left herself below the hole. It was mastery at its finest. She had complete command of her ball today.”
Those two did the math. They knew that an unlikely ace on the 18th would mean the second 59 in LPGA Tour history. As improbable as that was, Korda’s ball-striking and a generous front hole location made it possible.
“Once I made eagle on 17, I looked at my scorecard and I was like, Ooo, okay,” Korda said with a laugh. “And 18 is so tough, so I didn't know what that was going to look like. I kept the music (on the final tee) on today because I heard just about every (noise) yesterday and so I was like, ‘No, we're going to pump this up a little bit.’”
Being part of something that special can be nerve-racking. Catchers and fielders in baseball who are watching a no-hitter often don’t know what to do. Do you stick to your normal banter in the dugout? Do you stay away? How you act nonchalant without distracting the person on the cusp of history?
“I picked up on 16 and 18 just so I didn't mess up the flow,” Fitzgerald said. “I just wanted her to be comfortable and stay in her routine. I just didn't want to do anything (to mess it up). I think once we probably got about to 13 or 14 and saw her picking up steam, you just don't talk to her unless she talks to you. You just want to make sure you're doing everything you can to just cheer her on and root her in strong.”
“Yeah, they were walking so far behind me,” Korda said. “I was like, ‘Hey, guys.’” She waved her arms to show how she motioned Fitzgerald and Baier up to join her. “Larry started picking up (his ball). He's like, ‘No, no, no you're good. You make this putt.’ I did, and I was like, (to Larry) ‘You like that?’”
Everybody liked it, once it was over. Before that, nobody wanted to screw it up, including Korda’s parents, Petr and Regina. Saturday was Petr’s 53rd birthday. But they did their best to stay out of Jessica’s way throughout the round. “He was enjoying himself today. Good for him,” Jessica said. “It's his birthday. He's gets to whatever the heck he wants to do. But they were between (Nelly and me) for sure. I saw mom on a couple holes. And you can hear them.”
Until you get on 59 watch. Then everything gets quiet, a lesson Korda will remember next time around.