Whoa, Nelly! Korda, 14, shoots 73
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- You might expect a 14-year-old playing in her first U.S. Women's Open to have butterflies the size of seagulls. Nelly Korda thought that would happen, too. But it didn't.
She ripped her first shot at Sebonack Golf Club, and it found the fairway. Jitters? Those were nowhere to be found.
"It was nice; I didn't get nervous on the first hole, which was a big surprise," said Nelly, the younger of two Korda siblings playing in this major championship. "I just went up and hit it like it was a junior tournament."
Ah, the mind of the young. This is far from the juniors -- it's the biggest prize in women's golf. That said, there's actually nothing novel about teens playing in the Women's Open. Players such as Lexi Thompson and Morgan Pressel first qualified when they were 12.
Nevertheless, 14 is a notable age to make this kind of debut. Nelly shot a respectable 1-over 73, putting her seven shots back of leader Ha-Neul Kim, who had a 66.
Big sister Jessica Korda, 20, had an afternoon tee time; she shot a 2-under 70 and is in a group of eight players tied for ninth. There was double duty for their father, Petr, the former tennis pro. He walked 18 holes twice – first with Nelly inside the ropes on her bag, and then again with Jessica as a "fan."
"Jessica is the pro, she has her own caddie and that's where I am just the daddy," Petr said. "I'm the caddie-daddy [with Nelly]."
He's the proud papa of both, who are a little more than five years apart in age, but similar in physical features: tall, thin, blonde. Nelly is sometimes mistaken for Jessica.
"I'm her Mini-Me," said Nelly, laughing, and added that her sister gave her some simple advice coming into Thursday. "Just to keep calm, that's mostly it. We played all our practice rounds together. She helped me with the greens."
Nelly said it was also beneficial that she has so much experience with the Women's Open atmosphere, even though this is the first one she's played. Jessica has played in five previously, and Nelly attended all of them. The first was at Interlachen Country Club outside Minneapolis in 2008, when Jessica was 15.
"I was probably more nervous for her back then than I was playing myself for the first time," Nelly said.
The Kordas are the seventh set of sisters to compete in the same Women's Open; that list includes former champions Annika Sorenstam (sister Charlotta) and Hollis Stacy (sister Martha).
Nelly jokes about "beating" Jessica to the Women's Open, since Nelly won't turn 15 until late July. But it's clear they are cheering for each other. When Jessica found out in late May that Nelly had qualified, she was excited but protectively worried about how the kid would handle the pressure.
It looked Thursday as if Nelly did that very well. She started her round on the back side and finished with birdies on Nos. 8 and 9. Those came after her lone triple-bogey, which was on the par-3 seventh hole that is over water. Nelly's ball went for a swim on her first tee shot.
"She was steaming quite a bit when she went to the dropping zone," Petr said. "… Then what she did on those last two holes -- a big hats off to her. She's a fighter. I think it was a great job she's done today."
Nelly said she came into this event with no expectations, and the same goes for the rest of the summer. She would like to make the U.S. Junior Solheim Cup team, but she's also looking forward to having a good time. After all, she is just a sophomore-to-be in high school.
"I don't see my friends that often, so I'm going to relax, play some soccer, go swimming," she said of her post-Women's Open plans. "I don't even know what tournament I have after this."