Annie Park, golfer from Long Island, wins NCAA women's championship
A year ago, Annie Park made news by becoming the first girl to win the boys Nassau high school golf championship, an accomplishment that showed she was ready for bigger things. She proved that Friday, winning the NCAA women's national championship and leading her team, USC, to a runaway team title.
"It was unexpected," Park said. "I was just trying to play my best in each round and shot. It turned out to be good."
Park still would have been a senior at MacArthur High School in Levittown had she not graduated early and started college ahead of schedule. She was apprehensive about the move, but believed she was ready for a new challenge. As it turned out, none of the other best women college players challenged the 18-year-old freshman. She finished 10 under par through four rounds at the University of Georgia course, winning by six strokes.
That triggered USC's 21-stroke win over second-place Duke in the team competition.
The bubbly Park showed her new teammates how to enjoy their time on the course and ignore the pressure.
"I think she helped loosen up the team in general, which is important," senior Sophia Popov said. "You've got to have fun out there. You can always rely on her."
A championship is what USC coach Andrea Gaston had envisioned when she recruited Park. Before the teenager moved to Los Angeles from Long Island, the coach said, "She has a great personality. She will be a great fit."
On Friday, Park fit right into the middle of a celebration with her teammates, marking their 19-under-par final score. Before the season, she had insisted that she wants to graduate from college, but she was such a dominant performer, winning the Pac-12, West Regional and NCAA titles, that she might have to decide whether to turn professional.
Princeton's Kelly Shon of Port Washington, having qualified as an individual, was disappointed with her start in the championship tournament but finished strongly in Friday's round, improving 18 places and tying for 37th at 10 over.
Both Park and Shon will try to qualify Thursday for the U.S. Women's Open, which will be held next month at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton.