RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – The Kordas will see if they can push each other up another leaderboard this week.
They’ll see if they can take their sister act to one of golf’s mountaintops this time.
The ANA Inspiration begins Thursday with Nelly and Jessica Korda looking poised to see if their friendly sibling rivalry is advanced to the point where one of them is ready to win her first major championship.
“The history, jumping into Poppie’s Pond when you win, is really cool,” Nelly said. “I’ve always watched this tournament, as a little girl, and I’ve always been so inspired by all the past winners. The history is so rich.”
The Korda sisters storyline is becoming rich with possibilities, with Nelly, 20, and Jessica, 26, climbing the world rankings together as their games have improved.
Nelly is No. 8 in the world, the highest ranked American. Jessica is No. 11, with Lexi Thompson (No. 9) the only American between them.
The Kordas put a jolt of excitement in their last starts at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, with each just missing birdie tries at the end that could have pushed them both into a playoff with Jin Young Ko.
“It would have been cool,” Nelly said.
Two years ago, they were paired together for the first time in an LPGA event, in the final round of the Kingsmill Championship. They each shot 73s and tied for 31st.
There was high drama in the end, though.
“We pushed each other,” Nelly said. “Unfortunately, I hit it into the water on the 18th to tie her and that completely ruined my day.”
That was Nelly’s rookie season. Later that year, they were paired together in the first two rounds of the LPGA Blue Bay event in China. In the first round, it was Jessica who messed up, making a quadruple-bogey 9 in front of her sister.
“At least you kept it in single digits,” Nelly cracked afterward.
They like to compete, even in their practice rounds together this week.
“They had a little six-hole match going yesterday,” said David Whelan, who coaches both of them. “It ended even.”
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What do the sisters think it would be like to face each other in a Sunday final pairing with a title on the line? How difficult might it be on them?
“I think it would be fun,” Nelly said.
Nelly doesn’t like to look ahead like that, nor does Jessica, but golf fans can’t help it. These two are proving to be special talents who make each other better. They make the game more interesting.
They’re tall, lithe, power-hitting players with a stylishness that intrigues. They combine with sisters Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn to give the tour compelling family drama.
“These sister acts on the LPGA Tour are spectacular, and I think they can’t just be fascinating to me,” LPGA Hall of Famer Judy Rankin said. “Everybody has to like to watch this.”
Jessica has been showing the way for Nelly from the beginning, with Nelly tagging along when Jessica first started taking lessons. Nelly hung in the shadows with a plastic club. She was 6 when she took her first lesson.
They may be competitive with each other, but they’re extremely close.
“Jessica is definitely my best friend,” Nelly said after she broke through to win her first LPGA title last fall. “To have her out here on tour, taking me under her wing, showing me the ropes and including me in everything, she made me the player I am today.”
When Nelly broke through in Taiwan, Jessica wasn’t there. She was home resting an aching forearm. Jessica, however, reached out to congratulate Nelly before Nelly reached scoring. Jessica was on FaceTime, in tears of joy shouting congratulations to her sister on a cell phone that a fellow player stuck in Nelly’s hands.
“I can’t say it enough, watching my sister grow up, and the way she handles herself, not just winning, but her day-to-day, I’m just so proud,” Jessica said in Phoenix.
Jessica has five LPGA titles, Nelly two.
“As a professional athlete, you are always drawing on things to motivate you,” said Whelan, a former European Tour pro. “Obviously, Jess doing so well was a great motivation for Nelly as she was growing up. I think the way Nelly has been playing is a great motivation to Jessica, too.”
The Korda sisters have their genes going for them. Parents Petr and Regina were international tennis champions from the Czech Republic, with Petr taking a Grand Slam title winning the Australian Open in 1998 and Regina climbing among the top 25 women in the world rankings and making the Olympics. Sebastian, the baby brother, won the Australian Open junior championship a year ago.
After nursing a forearm injury late last year and taking time off early this season to rehab, Jessica doesn’t seem to have missed a beat. She tied for second in that return at the Founders Cup.
Nelly is on a roll. She has two victories, two second-place finishes and a third-place finish over her last eight starts. She has finished outside the top 10 in just one of those starts.
“I believe in the very best sort of way, they are driving each other,” Rankin said. “You really can’t say who will be the better one in the end, but I do know that competition, that it’s both competition and it’s also something where one wishes for the other, too.”
The wishing is all about Poppie’s Pond this week.