When Annie Park said last week that she was determined to change the trajectory of her LPGA tour career, it obviously was not just whistling in the dark or wishful thinking. A week after she spoke of keeping her “eyes on the prize,” she earned the biggest prize of her golf life.
She shot 8-under-par 63 in the final round and won the ShopRite LPGA Classic, a career-boosting and life-changing victory. It was the first win on the premier women’s tour for the Levittown resident and completely transformed a season that began with her on the lower-level Symetra Tour.
“I can’t describe in words how I feel,” the 23-year-old Park said during her news conference after finishing at 16 under at the Stockton Seaview Bay Course in Galloway, New Jersey. “It’s my first win out on tour. I mean, every win is very special, but just having my family out here, my friends supporting me, all my friends back home . . . without them and having that support, I would like to thank all of them.”
Park made an eagle and six birdies for a one-stroke victory over Sakura Yokomine of Japan. It was the latest in a series of dazzling wins. When she was at MacArthur High School, she was good enough to play in the boys competition and won the county title with a record score. She went on to win the NCAA women’s individual and team titles in her first months at USC.
This one topped all of them, in Park’s estimation, and not only because she won $262,500 (which exceeded her prior total career winnings). It was because this year had been a struggle. She finished 127th on the money list last season, which gave her only limited status on the LPGA circuit and consigned her to Symetra events. She also struggled with a back injury.
Her season turned when she got into the LPGA Mediheal Championship as a Monday qualifier and tied for 18th. “I think that Mediheal tournament really got it going,” she said after a round in which her new long putter enabled her to sink a 60-foot eagle putt on the ninth hole.
“I was definitely nervous out there. It’s golf and you’re leading, it’s kind of normal,” she said. “But I mean, I’ve won three tournaments on the Symetra and won national NCAAs. I think all of those wins kind of helped me have the experience. So I was just focusing on trying to make my putts.”
A week ago, she was a bit disappointed to be inactive while the U.S. Women’s Open was occurring. She had failed to qualify. But she recharged by spending time in the city with family and friends, then going to Florida for a lesson with longtime instructor Sean Foley. “It’s nice to have a week off,” she said at the time in a telephone interview.
During that same conversation, she went on to say this, which seemed prescient in New Jersey Sunday: “You can’t get discouraged by having one bad week or one bad round. You can’t have that affect your whole life. I just keep working toward my goals.”
After achieving one huge goal Sunday, she said, “I’ve never felt more ready. I was just ready to go out there and play, play my best golf, which is yet to come.”