On one moment of an unforgettable day, Annie Park of Levittown celebrated both a culmination and a big start. Her years of practice and preparation paid off in a pressure-filled ending and produced her first victory as a professional golfer. At the Symetra Tour's Toyota Danielle Downey Classic, she held the trophy and a grasp on her new career.
"I still don't believe it right now. It feels like a dream to me right now. But it feels nice," the 20-year-old said after she made clutch chip shots and short putts on the final two holes at Brook-Lea Country Club in Rochester, New York. She finished at 16 under par and held on for a one-shot victory over LPGA Tour veteran Vicky Hurst.
Park is playing on the developmental Symetra circuit in hopes of getting her LPGA Tour card for next season. The triumph will bolster her chances of finishing among the top 10 in the 2015 Symetra standings and earning an automatic promotion to the LPGA.
Sunday, she got to enjoy big-time touches: raising an oversized $22,500 check with her name on it and receiving a congratulatory water-bottle soaking from a few of her competitors (an LPGA custom). She accomplished her win with her mother, Ann, caddying for her, as she has done through much of her career.
It was Ann who first encouraged Annie to hit balls at the age of 8 at the Spring Rock driving range in New Hyde Park, and who traveled with her to junior tournaments all over the country and in Europe. Her mom took her to Florida to study with Sean Foley before Foley became famous for coaching Tiger Woods.
"This was only my fourth professional event," the winner said Sunday, after having shot a 4-under 68. "I don't know. I'm just speechless."
The MacArthur High School graduate recognizes she has a long way to go to compete with the best women players in the world, but she was gratified about holding off Hurst, a former Solheim Cup player (the women's equivalent of the Ryder Cup) and a five-time Symetra Tour champion. Park made par from just off the green on the par-3 18th hole and Hurst just missed a birdie putt.
"I knew she was going to play well today because she was putting phenomenal," Park said. "She's such a great player and a friend. She actually hosted a party on the Fourth of July and we all had a great time."
The final round in Rochester was Park's party. She wore her "SC" visor, showing allegiance to the University of Southern California, despite having left school recently after her junior season. She plans to finish her degree between tournaments. Park is content with her decision to turn pro, but regrets not having a better final year for the Trojans. She was hindered by thyroid surgery in February.
"It was kind of hard to find my level of hormone," she said. "After two weeks, I started swinging again, but I was trying to find the right dosage, so I was not at the right energy level."
She had all the right levels Sunday, of intensity, patience and skill. She mused afterward about having seen LPGA legend Nancy Lopez, the tournament's honorary host, because Park looked up to her and did a report on Lopez as a MacArthur sophomore. "She always has inspired me a lot," said the golfer who Sunday wrote a pivotal chapter in her own golf story.