It’s hard to know where to look at the moment with all the sport that’s filling our time and our screens of various sizes. Wherever you do look, however, it seems that there’s a member of the Korda family right there in the thick of things.
Last weekend, Nelly, 22 years of age, won her first major – the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship – and ascended to No 1 in the world, the first American to do so since Stacy Lewis in 2014. By doing so she is fulfilling the weighty expectations that have followed her all her life.
Her sister, Jess, who is five years her senior, has also half a dozen wins on tour including one this year, and when she turned professional back in 2011, she broke the news that her younger sister would be following along in a few years and was a much better player. This was no idle boast and Nelly has won three times this year alone, including that precious first major and top world ranking.
Two hours before Nelly holed the winning putt on the 18th green Jess holed for a birdie, securing her place on the American team for the Olympics in a few weeks time in Tokyo. The sisters are joined by Danielle Kang and Lexi Thompson and they will have a chance to catch up with their 20-year old brother Sebastian who will be representing the US in tennis.
This week Seb is in the main draw at Wimbledon having won his first big title last month. He’s accompanied by his Dad, Petr, former world No 2 and grand slam champion. Mum Regina, herself a former tennis professional who reached number 26 in the world and who represented Czechoslovakia in the 1988 Olympics, was in Atlanta at the golf with her daughters.
As regards sporting pedigree the Korda family has arguably no peer. It was, therefore, illuminating, if not disturbing, to hear Nelly open up at the start of last week about the mental health of athletes whom we mere mortals tend to think have it all. She said she was encouraged to speak out after Matthew Wolff, one of the young stars on the PGA Tour, admitted to struggling for many months this year, hating the limelight and at times finding it hard to get out of bed. Nelly hasn’t found it easy either and has worked very hard over the last few tournaments to recapture the enjoyment of simply being out on the golf course.
Now, this is where, in my experience, the general public tends to fall into one of two camps. You are either full of sympathy for the athlete and the relentless pressures of following a long-held dream. Having to explain every dip in form, keeping positive and acquiring the skill of separating your own self-worth from your performance is a difficult task in the face of a run of bad play. And, of course, all and sundry feel entitled to comment, critique and generally dissect your performance, your work ethic, your lifestyle and often (in the case of the women particularly) your looks.
On the other hand, many who have jobs they hate and who are locked into lives they dislike find it impossible to feel empathy for those who seemingly have it all. Their take is that sure, these athletes may live in a goldfish bowl but they’ve never really had a real job, have they? What’s their problem? They’ve only got to chase a little white ball round a field/sharpen up their footie skills/service action/place kicking/hurdling technique (insert appropriate phrase) and they’ve tons of time off during the day. AND they’ve probably got a few million tucked away in the bank, undoubtedly no mortgage to pay and they can walk away from their “job” whenever they feel like it.
Maybe if we’re honest with ourselves we have a couple of toes in each of these camps. It is undeniable, however, that as taboos surrounding mental health issues lessen and we become more open in discussing the topic it is worrying how many people are really struggling. My own feeling is that we mustn’t let envy of another’s material goods and assets determine whether we empathise with their struggles or are dismissive of them. It’s akin to the thinking that if we could only win the lottery all our worries would be over. That is hardly ever the case as the acquisition of wealth, which so many of us crave, often results in nothing more than replacing one set of challenges with another. Everyone who is struggling, regardless of their position on the socio-economic scale, deserves our support, our help and empathy.
It does give pause for thought when Nelly Korda speaks out from the bosom of arguably the highest-achieving sporting family on the planet. No matter how things appear from the outside it is not usually just quite as rosy as you may think. So let’s keep our eyes and ears open to be ready, willing and able to help, listen and support those we may come across in our own little worlds. We must look out for each other.
That, after all, is our job as members of the human race.
[Thanks to Nelly and Jess’s twitter feeds for the photos.]