Korda focused on speeding her rise to top with LPGA Championship win

Jessica Korda
Getty Images
Jessica Korda, at the Wegman's LPGA Championship, sports a birdie average of 4.31 this season, second only to Stacy Lewis on the LPGA Tour.
By
John Kekis
Associated Press

Series: LPGA Tour

PITTSFORD, N.Y. – It's been a breakthrough season for Jessica Korda. The sky's the limit, it seems, on the eve of the Wegman’s LPGA Championship.

''It's something every girl dreams about – to be a major champion,'' said Korda, who will tee off Thursday morning on the first round at Locust Hill Country Club in a threesome with Paula Creamer and top-ranked Inbee Park. ''What better place to do it than here?''

Korda isn't likely to forget the stunning putt that made her a first-time winner on the LPGA Tour at age 18 and boosted her confidence into the stratosphere. In just her 16th start on tour, she rolled in a fast-breaking, 25-foot downhill putt for birdie to win the 2012 Women's Australian Open.

''There was just a roar behind me,'' Korda said. ''It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.''

That she beat Stacy Lewis, Brittany Lincicome, Julieta Granada, So Yeon Ryu and Hee Kyung Seo in a two-hole playoff that matched the largest in LPGA Tour history was rather shocking. That it happened in Melbourne, where her tennis-playing father, Petr, won the 1998 Australian Open was mind-boggling.

Korda's initial reaction pretty much summed up the moment.

''I was standing next to Brittany and she was holding me up and telling me to breathe because I was pretty much turning purple,'' Korda said. ''I was so excited that I forgot to breathe. I didn't even realize that somebody else had to putt. At that moment I was so overwhelmed with what I just did, and she was there to hold me up.''

No need for that anymore.

Korda's game is solid. She has four top-10 finishes in 10 events this season, ranks seventh in the Solheim Cup standings, and is tied for 11th in the race for player of the year. She also sports a birdie average of 4.31, second on tour only to Lewis.

''I definitely grew a lot – as a person and as a golfer (after the victory),'' said Korda, who tied for 25th at the first major of the year, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, in April. ''The confidence from it – the fact that I have my pro card for another three years, that's something I don't need to worry about – is great.

''I had a bad first year out on tour. I barely kept my card. I was just happy to be playing, happy to just make the cut that week. The fact that now I knew that I had a set schedule, I was in all the majors and I could plan out my year was a huge comfort.''

Park won the Kraft Nabisco to knock Lewis out of the top spot in the rankings. Lewis, who's been struggling somewhat of late, plans on treating the LPGA Championship as just another stop on the road.

''People (prepare differently for a major), but I try not to because I think when you start doing things different, that's when you are going to mess yourself up,'' said Lewis, the top-ranked American. ''I don't like going to majors early and playing the golf course or anything like that. I just like to learn it that week.

''You have to do what works every week and not treat it any different.''

Still, it is different, and the players especially seem to feel it at Locust Hill – even a 20-year-old budding star.

''It's the people around here that make it feel like a major. You get treated so well. It's overwhelming the love that you feel,'' Korda said. ''For any golfer to play a major, you just feel different when you walk out to the first tee. The atmosphere is so different. You try to bring your 'A' game. I think it brings out a little different player in you.''

Shanshan Feng is the defending champion at Locust Hill. She became the first Chinese player to win an LPGA Tour title and a major event when she rallied a year ago for a two-shot victory over Japan's Mika Miyazato. And Feng appears primed to defend the title, after finishing second on Sunday to Karrie Webb in the ShopRite Classic.

''I think I'm ready,'' Feng said.

The last eight major champions have been Asian-born. Lewis, the last non-Asian major winner, is hopeful of breaking that string in a field that includes the top 10 players in the Rolex Rankings and the top 50 on the money list.

''I think more than anything my game sets up for majors,'' Lewis said. ''Hit it pretty straight, hit a lot of greens. I'm a grinder. I don't give up. I think that's what always kind of keeps me in contention.''

Just like last year, after this tournament ends, Wegmans Food Markets will negotiate to be the title sponsor of the LPGA Championship for another year. Tour officials say it will remain a one-year commitment for now.