Bouncing Czechs: The nation that is so close to being world class at golf

Nelly Korda’s first Major Championship victory last week confirmed her rise to the top of the world rankings – and also maintains the strange tale of Czech golf.

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Nelly Korda to win the Volunteers of America 4/1

There's a touch of pub quiz question about this one.

Name the nation that can lay claim to over 150 wins across all tours since 1975, including 16* Major Championships (what's more, six of those wins came this year, three of them in the Majors).

"Lay claim" might be laying it on a bit thick. "Lay some sort of a claim", however, would be fair enough.

Because (very quietly) the Czech Republic might just be the best golfing nation we've never thought about.

It's even, as of this week, had two players ranked number one in the world, a feat neither Scotland and Ireland can boast of.

It's a strange tale and will take quite a bit of explaining. It involves politics, war, ideological intransigence, daring escapes, multi-sport excellence, and family strength.

Let's begin with the star of last week - Nelly Korda.

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A family affair

Czech tennis players Petr Korda and Regina Rajchrtova were pretty good at smacking balls across nets.

Petr reached number two in the world and won 10 times on the ATP (including the 1998 Australian Open); Regina was a two-time winner on the WTA who broke the world's top 30.

But their three children? They're well on-track to better mum and dad's tallies.

Eldest child Jessica is a six-time winner on the LPGA, the youngest Sebastian is a winner on the ATP (currently playing at Wimbledon), while middle child Nelly secured a six LPGA title last Sunday at the KPMG Championship.

It was so much more than merely another win, however: it was Nelly's first Major Championship triumph and it elevated her to number one in the world rankings.

It's an astounding family achievement. Not so much a family tree as a family spree, and Nelly has often spoken of the example her parents have set. Drive, determination and sacrifice are watchwords - and they are traits that will be repeated later in this tale.

There has never been any question that the Korda siblings would represent any nation other than the one they were born in - the United States - but their Czech heritage is important to them.

Jessica has said: "America is my chosen country for everything. I'm very patriotic. Nobody can ever take that away from me.

"But I'm more Czech than my sister and my brother in a lot of the things I do and say and think, but I lived there until 2008.

"Nelly and Sebastian are very American. I'm a good split, in-between personality wise."

Imagine if the Kordas represented Europe in the Solheim Cup. It's an absolutely futile thought, but intriguing nonetheless. Favouritism would immediately tilt.

Bernhard Langer

The Kordas are not alone in having Czech heritage.

Bernhard Langer, the Duracell bunny of golf, who has tallied 117 wins worldwide (42 of them since he turned 50), is another.

His grandfather's farm was in the Sudetenland, a region of the Czech Republic that found itself quite literally on the edge of 20th century continental hostility, firstly when it was annexed by the Nazis prior to the start of the Second World War and then when it found itself the wrong side of the Iron Curtain.

It was therefore inevitable that the life of Langer's father Erwin would be shaped by politics and geography.

In 1938 he refused to join the army but, when threatened with two years hard labour, he accepted the compromise of becoming a courier. Taken prisoner at the end of the war, he found himself in a Russian train heading east, quite possibly for a Siberian gulag. Under the cover of the night, he leapt from the moving train, fleeing amid a hail of bullets, to hide in the forest for months before restarting his life in Anhausen.

Famed for his strength of character and determination, most notably when overcoming career-threatening back injuries and regular torments with the yips, the two-time Masters champion always credited his father's example for these qualities.

Planet Sport Bet have priced him at 14/1 to win the DICK's Sporting Goods Open.

Alex Cejka

Alex Cejka's father also undertook a dramatic escape from the Czech Republic, but he actually took his nine-year-old son with him. In 1979 the pair undertook an astonishing journey that involved trains, hiking, swimming and cycling through Yugoslavia and Italy to Switzerland before settling in Frankfurt.

Inspired by Langer, young Cejka took up golf and ten years after he had fled the East he turned pro. A four-time winner on both the Challenge and European Tours, he added one PGA Tour success in 2015.

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He's currently enjoying a remarkable rookie season on the Champions Tour, completing victory in the first two Majors of the senior season, emulating his hero Langer who has no less than 11 of those elevated titles.

Sandra Gal

The final piece in the Bouncing Czech story is Sandra Gal, the LPGA winner and two-time European Solheim Cup representative, who was born and brought up in Dusseldorf, but who speaks to her family in their native Czech.

Last week she played in the LET's Czech Ladies Open and revealed she has taken American citizenship. "I'm still European," she said. "But I cannot ignore the fact that I have lived in the US for the past 17 years. The flag next to my name will always be German, but Prague and the Czech Republic will always be my favourite place to visit."

Reality Czechs

Of course, the Czech Republic is not without players who actually fly the nation's flag either.

Klara Spilkova became the first Czech winner on the LET in 2017, she now plies her trade on the LPGA, and she has qualified to represent her country at the Tokyo Olympics.

She will be joined by Ondrej Lieser who last year won twice on the Challenge Tour, earning a rookie season on the European as the number ranked graduate.

Near neighbour Slovakia, meanwhile, completes this curious story - they're top golfer is the South African-born, America-based Rory Sabbatini.

* I included the senior Major wins of Langer and Cejka for effect. Shoot me.

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