America First? Not at Women’s Open, where through 54 holes the leaders come from afar

July 16, 2017

BEDMINSTER, N.J. – Were you rooting for Venus Williams at Wimbledon? Nelly Korda was. Nelly, whose father, Petr, played at Wimbledon 10 times, had a 1:18 p.m. tee time in the third round of the U.S. Women’s Open at Trump National on Saturday. The Venus Williams-Garbine Muguruza finale began at 9 a.m., Garden State time. That gave Nelly, 18, plenty of time to watch at least the first set of the match in her hotel room.

Nelly’s older sister, 24-year-old Jessica, was following Wimbledon, too. It’s not surprising. Their father was once the No. 2 ranked tennis player in the world. Their mother, Regina Rajchrtová, represented Czechoslovakia at the 1988 Olympics as a tennis player. Their kid brother, Sebastian, is a professional tennis player, ranked 1,395 in the world. Give him some time—he just turned 17.

But while Nelly was hanging on every point of the tense 7-5 first set won by Muguruza, Jessica missed the whole thing. She had an 11:17 a.m. tee time on Saturday. Shortly after coming in from her round, Jessica looked for ice for a sore left wrist, an ice-cream bar for a friend who had followed her around and a TV that was showing something other than golf.

“I totally called it,” Jessica said, shortly after learning Venus had lost in straight sets, the second a mildly depressing slam-bam 6-0 shellacking. Jessica is a lively, tall blonde who has won four LPGA events. She took no pleasure in Venus’s defeat, but obvious pride in her abilities as a tennis swami. Her feeling was that if Venus couldn’t win the first set she was not going to win the match, not at age 37 and playing a 23-year-old. 

Venus, of course, is part of a sister act, too. It was not even six months ago that Venus and her sister, Serena, played in the final of the Australian Open. As for Jessica and Nelly, the  2017 Women’s Open at Trump National Golf Club represented the third time they have both played in a U.S. Open. The first time it happened was in 2013, when Nelly was 14 years old. Talk about your prodigies. Six other sister pairs have played in the same U.S. Open, including Annika and Charlotta Sorenstam, who did it eight times, and Alice Bauer and Marlene Bauer Hagge—the Bauer sisters!—who did it an even dozen, between 1947 and ’66.

The Korda sisters play tennis together maybe two or three times a year—and golf together every chance they get. “I don’t like running back and forth, back and forth, getting sweaty,” Jessica said.

Nelly came off the 18th green at Trump National deeply annoyed. You could see it all over her face. “Made a quad on 11,” she said. It’s a straight-forward par-4. “Drove it fine, hit a 7-iron long and left, chunked the first chip, skulled the second one, think I took two more chips after that.” She shot a third-round 78. Nelly is four over par through 54 holes. Jessica is one over. No, there is not an intra-family competition for Low Korda.

Playing right behind Nelly was one of the few all-American twosomes on the course, Cristie Kerr of Scottsdale, Ariz., and Stacy Lewis of The Woodlands, Texas. Kerr shot a rock-solid Saturday 70 on a broad, playable course getting high marks from the players. At four under par, and four back, she’s not out of it. Lewis, at two over, pretty much is. She went out in 32 to get to six under and in position to win the championship. But then she made a triple bogey on 11 and a 10—a 10!—on the par-5 18th, where she chunked two shots in the greenside pond. Yowza. Forty-four coming home, after going out in 32. Talk about your differentials. While Kerr was getting whisked to the White Cube—Donald Trump’s special glass-enclosed viewing box beside the grand Georgian clubhouse—Lewis, her cheeks bright red and surely burning hot, was making a silent march across a clubhouse driveway, looking to kick something.

President Trump spent about 3½ hours Saturday afternoon in his glass enclosed box, a glorified miniature wedding tent with a large flatscreen TV. He was plainly visible to spectators, wearing a blue blazer, white shirt and red hat. Two large black Chevy Suburbans were parked beside it and there were at times as many as 15 Secret Service officers and state and local police and security officials near its entrance. But they were amazingly unobtrusive, and there was nothing like frenzy when Trump stood up and looked around to wave now and again to spectators on the course or fellow members on the clubhouse veranda. Eric Trump was also around for much of the afternoon. There were no signs of Melania or Donald Jr.

Mike Davis, the USGA executive director, spent about 75 minutes in the tent, talking golf with Trump. “He just wanted to talk about golf,” Davis said. “He really loves the game and you can tell. He asked what was happening with junior golfers and how many of them were girls. I told him that just a few years ago only one in six junior golfers was a girl but now it’s one in three. He was very interested in all of that, very interested in how the women were responding to the course. He asked a number of times what else the club could be doing for the event. There was nothing political about it. He was just being a gracious host.”

Trump’s political doctrine can be summarized in two words: America First. The women’s golf on Sunday is unlikely to further his cause. Kerr is the only American golfer in the top-10. Shanshan Feng of China, winner of a bronze medal at the Olympics last year, is the leader, at nine under. Two players from Korea, Amy Yang and Hye-Jin Choi, a 17-year-old amateur, are a shot behind her. It’s wild to think of an amateur winning the Open, isn’t it?

Feng and Choi go off in the last twosome, at 2:25 p.m. Nelly Korda goes off at 9:39 a.m. Jessica Korda goes off at 11:40 a.m. Roger Federer and Marin Cilic start at 9 a.m., East Coast time. The president’s Sunday plans are unknown, but you can take an educated guess. He likes tennis, he loves golf, and wherever he goes, there’s a TV nearby.