February 13th 2012
Melbourne, Australia-When Jessica Korda hoisted the trophy Sunday at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, she became the fourth youngest winner of an LPGA event in history. Just two weeks shy of her 19th birthday, Korda also became only the fifth player to win an LPGA event at the age of 18 or younger.
To get to the winner’s circle, Korda had to take out five other players who also finished regulation at 3-under 289. She did it with a birdie on the second extra hole.
“I was thinking really clearly,” Korda said of that second playoff hole. “I had one concept in my head...I was really calm. I knew what the putt did because I’d had it before and it did not move.”
The implications of the victory are huge for Korda. During her rookie season last year, she barely made any noise -- her best finish was a T-16 at the Avnet LPGA Classic. The Australian Open win, however, bumps her to the top of both the Player of the Year race and the LPGA Official Money list. She becomes the season’s first Rolex first-time winner and qualifies for the season-ending Titleholders Championship.
Those who watched the lanky blonde, who measures in somewhere around 6-feet tall and is still growing, play amateur golf shouldn’t be surprised that Korda finally has come into her own on the LPGA tour. But then again, perhaps “finally” isn’t the correct word. While it took a year to get her feet wet, Korda is but 18 -- and there are moments when she shows it. One of those was when she ran from the 16th green to the 17th tee in the final round, just to let off some steam. She started the morning running circles around cars in the parking lot for the same reason.
“A lot of the hard work I put in in the off season, all the times I was down last year, it is all worth it,” Korda said. “It made me grow up. It made me realise that you’ve got to change your life to live out here and this is proof.”
2. Memory lane: That Korda’s first professional victory came at Royal Melbourne seems pretty appropriate when you look back at Korda family history.
Korda’s father Petr, a professional tennis player, won the 1998 Australian Open in Melbourne for the biggest win of his career. After her victory Sunday, Jessica said she couldn’t have picked a better place to make the first check in her win column.
“When we spoke on Monday, Dad said Melbourne had been good to him,” she said. “As I was walking around here, there was a Melbourne sign on every green. It made me smile because it reminds me of the good times. I love watching Melbourne tennis. I watched all the time.”
Korda didn’t miss a beat upon winning the playoff Sunday. Like her dad 14 years ago, Korda celebrated the victory with a scissor kick. Was it as high as Petr’s?
“We’ll see, I don’t know.”
3. And then there were six: Korda needed every bit of that 18-year-old fearlessness when she finished regulation only to find that she was tied with five other players -- especially considering which five.
Korda returned to the 18th tee box with Brittany Lincicome, Stacy Lewis, Julieta Granada, Hee Kyung Seo and So Yeon Ryu. For those keeping track at home, that fivesome owns a collective three major titles (Lincicome and Lewis, the Kraft Nabisco Championship; Ryu the U.S. Women’s Open) and a whole lot of experience on the LPGA tour.
Korda made quick work of them, however, dropping a 25-foot birdie putt on the second hole to win.
4. Where’s Yani? For those looking around that sixsome for World No. 1 and defending champion Yani Tseng, well, you won’t find her until the eighth position on the leaderboard. Tseng finished regulation at 1-under 291 to miss the playoff by two shots.
Tseng never could get anything going at Royal Melbourne as she battled a stomach bug. She struggled on the front all week and made the turn Sunday at 3 over thanks in part to a triple bogey at the par-4 fourth. She had four birdies on the back nine but also two bogeys for a final-round 74.
Rest assured, however, that Tseng took away something positive.
“I still felt like I had a chance,” she said. “If I didn’t have the two bogeys late, I probably still would have had a chance. So it’s good that I hung in there and fought back.”
5. Another youngster: In her third consecutive professional start of 2012, Lydia Ko, 14, continues to have success. She won the New South Wales on Jan. 29 to become the youngest winner of a pro event in history.
Since then, Ko played in the Australian Ladies Masters, finishing T-32, and finished T-19 in Melbourne on Sunday. She’ll play the New Zealand Open next week.