Annie Park a symbol of Long Island's rich golf heritage
Golf is a team sport, at least here, this week. You could see it in all of those people who approached Levittown's Annie Park with autograph requests and good wishes on being the Long Islander in Long Island's first U.S. Women's Open.
"I'm from Seaford," someone shouted, or "My son is going to MacArthur [High School]."
Then there was Leslie Marisi, a woman from Levittown who took the train to Sebonack Golf Club on Tuesday and was thrilled to meet Park and get her signature. "I think it's amazing, and I think it's a long time coming," Marisi said about seeing a fellow resident in a major championship.
In this most individual of sports, Park has many teammates this week. Among those are not only the Long Islanders who are pulling for one of their own, but all kinds of Long Islanders who played on the national stage while standing on home turf.
"Everybody," said Lizette Salas, the LPGA tour pro who went to USC (Park's current school) and practiced with her yesterday, "knows Annie."
"She is some special player, obviously. I think it's great," said Stephen Smith, head of the Long Island Golf Association, who was a volunteer marshal on No. 11 yesterday when Park went through. "There's a lot of local interest. I think if it would be great if she made the cut and went all the way."
No, her place in the Open starting this afternoon does not have the cultural heft of Southampton teenager John Shippen playing the 1896 U.S. Open on his home course -- U.S. Golf Association president Theodore Havemeyer had to hold strong against a revolt from European pros who objected to playing alongside Shippen because he had black heritage. But her play this week does belong amid, and add to, local tradition.
Park is the daughter of immigrants -- and let's face it, most of us are descendants of people who came from somewhere else, even if it was just New York City. She went through the public school system, graduating a semester early from MacArthur. She learned and practiced her golf on public driving ranges and courses (mostly Bethpage). So she qualifies as one of us.
She also rates as one of them, members of a special group: Mrs. Charles S. Brown winning the 1895 Women's Amateur at Meadow Brook, Walter Travis dominating the Garden City Golf Club invitational that eventually was named for him, Gene Sarazen winning the Open at Fresh Meadow, Darrell Kestner playing the Open at Shinnecock and Bethpage, Joe Saladino winning matches in the U.S. Mid-Amateur at Atlantic.
The point is, her first shot Thursday will be part of Long Island golf history, and that is as good as it gets, at least in terms of American golf.
Having the Open here -- a few yards away from National Links, the home course of iconic American golf architect Charles Blair Macdonald -- and having Park in it are double reminders how special Long Island is to the game. It is more than the caricatures that have stuck -- leather-lunged fans razzing Sergio Garcia, rains flooding the Black Course, parched earth scarring the memory of the 2004 Shinnecock Open.
Long Island was the cradle of American golf, and it still is thriving.
It is the juniors who sign up at Michael Hebron's programs at Smithtown Landing and the seniors who get up early to play at Eisenhower Red. It is Joe Rehor giving lessons on those mats at Bethpage and Met PGA head Charlie Robson, a Long Islander, making life better for golfers everywhere with his innovations.
It is Island Hills and North Hills and Rock Hill, Sands Point to Bergen Point, Cherry Valley to Cherry Creek. It is golfers who are there to greet dawn at Montauk Downs and those who cheat dusk at Inwood on the Queens border.
Long Island is golf's home team.
Annie Park is an ambassador. Today is her day, and ours, too.