WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Jessica Korda says the medal ceremonies are making her cry.
Justin Thomas says he was intrigued by the Opening Ceremony.
Golf’s return to the Olympics is making an impression on more than just the players who qualified to play in Rio de Janeiro. Korda and Thomas say they have been riveted to their televisions watching the Games and are even more motivated now to try to make the American teams headed to the Olympics in Tokyo in four years.
“I’ve been watching every single minute that I possibly can,” Korda, 23, said Monday from the studios of WPTV in West Palm Beach, where she and Thomas were doing long-distance media day interviews beamed over to Malaysia, where each will be defending titles this fall in back-to-back events on the same golf course in Kuala Lumpur. “I loved watching Michael Phelps win his five gold medals, and the men’s golf was so much fun to watch. One of my favorite lines from the Olympics was Matt Kuchar saying he has never been so happy finishing third [to win a bronze medal].
“I’ve watched the gymnastics, too. I had tears in my eyes every single time someone went up to the podium. I love the Olympics.”
Thomas, 23, said he also has been watching.
“I didn’t quite get to the tears stage like Jessica did, but it’s been a lot of fun,” Thomas said. “The Opening Ceremony really did it for me.
“I obviously wanted to play, and I want to play in future Olympics. Any time you get to represent your country, no matter what it is, it’s an honor. But to do it on the highest stage, like the Olympics, would be something very, very special to both of us. We’re excited to hopefully win ourselves some medals in the future.”
The men’s and women’s Olympic competitions are being played on the same golf course in Rio, in back-to-back weeks, with the women’s event beginning Wednesday. The men and women will do that again in Malaysia, with the PGA Tour’s CIMB Classic scheduled to be played Oct. 20-23 at Kualua Lumpur Golf & Country Club. The women will play the LPGA’s Sime Darby event there the week after.
Korda and Thomas were doing the joint media-day event as part of the new PGA Tour-LPGA Alliance, a formal cooperative effort to promote the game and their tours together.
For both Korda and Thomas, it seems like a natural alliance.
They have been friends since they met each other as 15-year-olds playing American Junior Golf Association events. On that circuit, the boys and girls compete in separate competitions but on the same venues during the same weeks. They were part of a traveling tour of juniors and parents.
Thomas also got to know Lexi Thompson and her brother, Curtis, as juniors, as he did Alison Lee, Emma Talley and Ginger Howard.
“We’ve been friends for a long time, and we follow each other,” Thomas said.
After Korda won the Sime Darby in Malaysia last year, she got a congratulatory text from Thomas.
“I’m pretty sure the first thing she texted back was, `Now I want you to win there,’” Thomas said.
Two weeks later, Thomas won his first PGA Tour title there.
“Growing up playing AJGA events, we were on a lot of the same ranges together, practice greens together, playing the same venues, and it was a lot of fun,” Korda said. “So this alliance, I think it’s going to be fun for those of us who grew up playing together, to continue to do things together in our real jobs.”
The alliance involves joint marketing, with the PGA Tour and LPGA helping promote each other. The joint media day was a step in developing the relationship.
In a completely unofficial and unplanned way, the joint marketing actually started earlier this year, with some high profile PGA Tour and LPGA players “marketing” vacation time in similar fashion.
Back in April, Thomas joined Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Smylie Kaufman on an epic Bahamas vacation they called #SB2K16, where they shared their good times in amusing fashion on Snapchat. Last week, Korda joined Michelle Wie, Alison Lee and Austin Ernst on a “Babecation” on Lake Keowee in South Carolina. The women also sent out a series of photos documenting their trip.
Korda acknowledged they were inspired by Thomas, Spieth, Fowler and Kaufman.
“We definitely had so much fun watching their vacation (through social media),” Korda said. “But their vacation was way different. They played some golf, and we wanted nothing to do with golf. We just wanted to be on the lake and decompress from everything. And I don’t think we documented it as well as they did.”
The PGA Tour and LPGA are in the midst of planning a joint event as part of this new alliance. Ideas are still being hashed out. Korda and Thomas aren’t sure how that will play out, but they know this: In four years, they would love to compete together in the Olympics.
“We didn’t really know what to expect with golf in the Olympics, how it would really work,” Thomas said. “We didn’t know if it would be something great, or just OK, but I think it was everything we hoped and more. I can’t say enough good things about golf’s return to the Olympics.”