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Saturday, April 6, 2013
Jessica Korda is making a name for herself

By Melissa Isaacson

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- Jessica Korda still has "flashbacks" to one major tournament in particular, but it wasn't one in which she played, and it wasn't golf, but tennis.

"I was in the stands. I had this purple notebook I was drawing in, and I had no idea what was going on," Korda, who was 5 years old when her father, Petr, won the Australian Open in 1998, said. "But I do remember him like climbing up the wall and running up to me and my mom and lifting me up and saying that he won."

On Saturday, Petr, Jessica's mother Regina Rajchrtova, once ranked as high as 25th in the world tennis rankings and younger siblings Nellie and Sebastian were in the gallery at the Kraft Nabisco Championship as Jessica shot a 4-under-par 68 to put herself in contention for her own major.

"She knows what she wants, and she's following her dream," Petr said. "I'm the supporting act. This is her life. And to be honest, when my daughter is being introduced as [my] daughter, I'll be happy in the future when she's Jessica Korda, golf player, and I'm somewhere in the past. This is her time."

Korda, at 70-72-68 for 210 over three rounds and six shots behind leader Inbee Park in a six-way tie for third, has had 10 birdies in her past 26 holes. She fired four birdies on the front nine and two on the back Saturday, including one on the par-4 18th after bogeys on 16 and 17.

"I'm just reading [the greens] well and hitting them on the lines that I want," she said. "So hopefully I can do that tomorrow again."

This week was a reunion for the Kordas as Jessica, 20, in her third year on tour, has been on the road since January. During that time, she had back-to-back top-five finishes at the HSBC Women's Champions and LPGA Founders Cup.

"My sister is 14, turning 15, and my brother is 12, turning 13; they're both playing tennis and golf, and so they're growing in their own aspects, and they need their parents there," Jessica said. "I'm 20, so I don't really need them to be out there."

It follows Petr's anti-stage parent philosophy as Jessica grew up and chose golf over the sport in which her parents made their living and became national heroes in the Czech Republic.

"I was delighted," Petr said. "Regina and I never wanted our kids to play tennis because they always would be compared to their parents, and they're trying to be better."

When it was time for Jessica's decision on whether to go to college or turn pro, they exerted just a bit more influence.

"My parents will always tells me what they think, not what to do, and that to me is really important," Jessica said. "They kind of let me make my own mistakes and let me grow as an individual and don't pressure me to do anything.

"Same thing when I was turning pro. They had an ultimatum: If I didn't make it [out of Q School], I was going to take my SATs and go to school. But … they support me with whatever I do, and they just lead me on."

The Kordas also lent their support this week to Isabelle Lendl, a 21-year-old University of Florida senior and daughter of former tennis great Ivan Lendl. She received an exemption to play here but did not make the cut.

"I was actually expecting him to be here because this is something special, and I was very proud of Isabelle getting in," Petr said of his fellow countryman's daughter. "We walked the first two holes with her, and I know it was difficult. It kind of reminded me when Jessica was playing her first U.S. Open, and she duffed it [on the] first tee shot. She went nearly under it, but she saved par. It was special, but [there were] nerves. Same thing today. It's part of the game."

It's also one area in which Petr and Regina can advise their daughter going into Sunday's final round.

"Regina and I will give her a few tips to help her," he said. "We've been in this situation, and we know what the nerves can do. When I was playing the Australian Open, I couldn't get to the court my legs were so heavy. I said 'Gee, I want to have fun,' [but] it's very difficult.

"You have to learn. Even Tiger [Woods] is nervous on the first tee. It's good to have jitters; if you wouldn't have them, there would be something wrong."

Jessica said she will take any advice he has to offer.

"Actually, he's just been telling me to have fun," she said. "Just relax and smile and enjoy it because there's only so much you can do in practice, and then you really have to enjoy it out there."