It was worth it. Barely, but it was worth flying across the country, flying home on a nonstop red-eye flight that had to make a stop and arrived two hours late. Annie Park was pleased to take a big chunk out of her busiest week to take home a major award from Los Angeles Monday night.
But it was not worth going a third straight day without practicing for the U.S. Women's Open. So, before the NCAA champion had time even for a nap, she was on the practice tee at Sebonack Golf Club Tuesday, refining the swing that has made her a national celebrity and that has earned her a spot in Long Island's first Women's Open.
If anyone should suggest that Annie Park has such a grooved motion that she could hit balls perfectly, in her sleep, they wouldn't be far off. Having been on her home campus, USC, for the Honda Sports Awards ceremony honoring the top female college athletes in the nation Monday night, she was back on her native turf, Long Island, expertly hitting shots in preparation for her first round Thursday. Despite being a little bleary eyed.
"I definitely wanted to get some practice in because I didn't practice for two days because of the Honda," she said, adding that it was daunting, catching a flight at about 10:30 Pacific time and reaching New York at 9 a.m. (there was a stop in Denver because of a passenger who was ill).
Any 18-year-old is adept at sleeping at a moment's notice. "I passed out," she said, with a laugh. "But sleeping in a plane is like sitting. It's more of a nap."
Park, accompanied by her mother, checked in at the Open in late morning and was on the range early in the afternoon, without one regret for having made a stressful week more frenzied.
"Half the athletes that were there, they were past Olympians or future Olympians so it was just an honor to meet them. They're great athletes, and just talking with them, mingling with them was just great," Park said. "They were so nice."
On one hand, it was humbling for the first-semester freshman to have been on the stage with juniors and seniors who have been repeat All-Americans. On the other hand, it gave her confidence to have merited their company.
"Wow, I guess I have accomplished a lot in my first semester," she said.
But the U.S. Open does not give medals for past achievements. It is all about what you can do over four days, no matter what your resume says. Park will play a full practice round this afternoon and she will be ready to start the championship Thursday afternoon.
"It definitely feels different from last year because I was younger and I was star-struck, basically," said the golfer who missed the Open cut as a high school junior in 2012. "But I've seen these girls play in person now."
Not that she has definite thoughts on the current dominant player, Inbee Park, who has won the LPGA's first two majors this season. "I wish I knew. To be honest, I don't watch golf," she said. "We don't have cable TV at home."
So what does she do, in the rare moments she isn't traveling or practicing? "I like to listen to music," Park said. "And I try to take as many naps as I can. I need them."