Annie Park wins Nassau boys golf championship

MacArthur's Annie Park teeing off at the 18th

MacArthur's Annie Park teeing off at the 18th hole during the Nassau High School Boys Golf Championships. (May 23, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.)

The gentleman's game? Not Wednesday.

Annie Park, a MacArthur High School junior, became the first girl to win the Nassau boys high school championship Wednesday afternoon, smashing the scoring record by six strokes with an 8-under 134 for the two-day tournament at Bethpage State Park.

Park defeated a field of 134 golfers -- 133 of whom were boys. She finished six strokes ahead of Farmingdale sophomore Matt Lowe, who was the two-time defending champion and previous record holder. Lowe's younger sister, Alix, was the only other girl in the tournament.

"It feels good, I guess," Park said when asked about her victory over the boys. "I was just thinking about my own game."

Lowe, an accomplished golfer who is gunning for a spot in the men's U.S. Open, was thinking about her game, too.

"She's gotta be one of the best female golfers in the world," said Lowe, 16, of Farmingdale. "It's like being hit by a freight train."

Park was eligible to play in the boys tournament because her district does not field a girls team, Nassau coordinator Larry Rose said. She plays with the Levittown school district boys team, which competes in the fall, although the state tournament is in June.

Park earned a spot in this summer's U.S. Women's Open by being the medalist at the sectional qualifier in New Jersey on May 15.

"There's a reason why she's playing in a boys tournament," said Jericho's Elliott Bottoms, who shot a 153. "Clearly it's because she's a great golfer and she won. She deserves to be here."

Her victory comes just a week after male field hockey player Keeling Pilaro's successful appeal to play on the Southampton varsity girls team next fall. Pilaro, 14, was briefly deemed ineligible for being too skilled by Suffolk County athletics. Those rules do not govern Nassau boys golf. Title IX aims to preserve the opportunities of the underrepresented class in athletics.

Park, 17, whose effortless swing and bright red-and-yellow hand-knit club covers attracted a caravan of onlookers as the afternoon progressed, said she was introduced to golf at the age of 8 when she would accompany her mom, Ann, to the course.

These days, it's Ann who watches. The mother sometimes caddies for her daughter, but Tuesday, she followed, knitting needles in tow. The club covers, she said, are courtesy of the time she spends watching her daughter golf.

"From 9 or 10 years old, she [hit] long drives," her mother said. "All the tournaments, I take her."

It's paying off, Lowe said, noting that Park's scores are going a long way toward raising the level of competition.

"Two years ago, I shot a 2-under and won by nine strokes," said Lowe, who was in the same foursome with Park. "This year, I shot a 2-under and lost."

Despite qualifying for the boys state tournament June 2-4, Park said it is possible that she won't make the trip. She is scheduled to play in the Rolex Girls Junior Championship in Florida on June 11-15, in which she would face a higher level of competition.

Lowe said he will definitely miss the state high school tournament to compete in the U.S. Open sectional qualifier June 4 in Summit, N.J.

Park, who tied with Lowe at 4-under after the first round on the Bethpage Blue course, played from the same tees as the boys. She shot a 4-under 66 in the second round on the Red.

"It was like she couldn't hit a bad ball," said Steven Tanen of Cold Spring Harbor High School, who finished 10th. "It was almost robotic, she made anything she looked at."

Park is the No. 19 girls player in the country, according to Golfweek.

"It was the short game," she said of the key to her success. "With the guys, it's so much longer, so [for me] it's all about getting it on the green. . . . My short game had to work."

And did it ever. Park sank a 25-foot putt to birdie on the seventh -- a hole where Lowe bogeyed after barely missing twice -- to take a three-stroke lead. Birdies on 12, 13 and 17 secured her victory.

"I would think, 'Maybe she won't make this,' " Lowe said. "It never happened. It was pretty cool to watch, but it was also frustrating to not make my shots on top of that."

Despite the victory, Park said she wasn't too concerned about beating the 30 other boys who qualified for Day 2.

Lowe's sister Alix, 14, shot a 9-over 79.

Park said her tournament schedule doesn't leave much time for anything but golf. Though she enjoys watching Korean TV shows and spending time with her friends, recently it's been a grind, she said. She plans to graduate in January and earned a full golf scholarship to the University of Southern California.

"I have so much makeup work to do," she said. "It was difficult to manage in the beginning of the year. . . . I was studying for the SATs every Saturday and going to classes before school. It was hectic."

She spent Tuesday night finishing up homework assignments and flew Wednesday night to Arizona, where she'll take part in the Thunderbird Invitational. That tournament features the top 30 girls and boys in the country.

She'll be competing in the girls division, by the way.

With Doric Sam

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