ShopRite LPGA Classic Presented by Acer
Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club
Pre-tournament Notes and Interviews
May 29, 2013
After spending a week caught in the middle of tropical storms in the Bahamas, the LPGA Tour returns to the Northeast for the ShopRite LPGA Classic Presented by Acer in Galloway, N.J. The Bay Course at the Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club plays host to the 54-hole event where 144 players will compete for a $225,000 first-place prize.
Last year’s event witnessed a milestone in Stacy Lewis’ career as she claimed her third career victory and surpassed Cristie Kerr as the top-ranked American on the LPGA Tour. Lewis was untouchable throughout the week, either leading or co-leading in the first two rounds and managing to take six-shot lead heading into Sunday’s final round. She carded 65-65-71 to take a four-stroke victory over Katherine Hull-Kirk and Lexi Thompson. Lewis went on to win the Navistar LPGA Classic and the Mizuno classic en route to earning the Rolex Player of the Year award.
Quite the turning point: Looking back to a year ago, Inbee Park still has trouble realizing how much success she has had on the course and the trail she took to becoming a six-time LPGA Tour winner and No. 1 player in the world.
At last year’s ShopRite LPGA Classic, Park was ranked No. 25 in the Rolex Rankings and had yet to even record a top-10 finish in the Tour’s first eight events of the season. Plagued by bad final-round performances, she had to hold onto her patience to let things finally fall into place.
“Yeah, we looked at the rankings and I looked, too, and we were thinking until last year at this point, I had never finished Top‑10 in last year till now, and I have already three wins this year,” said Park.
“So I've been having a really lot of success this year, and it's been ‑‑ sure feels like longer than one year, but it's only been one year,” said Park. “I mean, everything just happened really quick, and just last year here ‑‑ I've been playing really good last year until this point but I just really had bad final rounds every week. I was in Top‑5 almost every week but this last round, I played really bad and finished 20th, 30th.”
Last year in New Jersey, she finished T18 and posted respectable rounds of 73-69-69 and closed out the event on a high note. She took her momentum to the Tour’s next stop, the Wegmans LPGA Championship, where she found the strength of her game on the greens.
“Then after this week, I started putting really good,” said Park. “The ball‑striking got better, but yeah, I think that putting has been really a big key to my success last year after this point.”
Park went on to record 10-consecutive top-10 finishes including two victories, her second and third of her career, and has never looked back. She already has three wins in 2013 and holds a 36-point lead in the Rolex Player of the Year race over Stacy Lewis. She’ll try to regroup this week after missing the cut last week in the Bahamas, her first missed cut since the season-opener last year at the ISPS Handa Australian Women’s Open. But she didn’t sound too concerned over a few bad shots in the Caribbean.
“Yeah, it was a new one, first‑time experience obviously, a new one and it was a little bit different,” said Park of the 12-hole rounds in the Bahamas. “I didn't play my best last week, but just hit a couple of bad shots and that was it. So just try to start off fresh this week. Looking forward to playing more golf again.”
Competition on the rise: The LPGA Tour saw two Rolex First-Time Winners in the last two events and the young, emerging talent on Tour has not gone unnoticed. Players like Jennifer Johnson and Ilhee Lee have etched their names in the ‘LPGA Tour Winners’ category and have also put themselves on the map to be seen as contenders each week.
World No. 1 Inbee Park said the number of players winning on Tour will undoubtedly increase the competition among the top-ranked players and raise the quality of play across the board.
“It's really good for the Tour when you have a lot of different winners,” said Park. “It's good to have everybody actually have success on the Tour and everybody is competitive enough to win every week and we are not just playing against five people; we are actually playing against a hundred people. I think that's very good competition for everybody, and I think that really makes everybody play better every week and gave motivation to each other.”
Johnson and Lee were this year’s first First-Time Winners and follow the class of 2012 which included seven new winners on Tour (Jessica Korda, Azahara Munoz, Mika Miyazato, Shanshan Feng, Brittany Lang and So Yeon Ryu).
Ante up: Inbee Park spent her high school years in Las Vegas and a short time at UNLV but didn’t get a full experience of the gambling lifestyle at a young age.
“I'm staying close this week, so I'm just right there,” said Park. “When I was living there, I was in high school, so I really didn't get to gamble much. I was really young to enjoy Las Vegas.”
Park said she’s staying at one of the casinos this week in Atlantic City and has grown to appreciate a little gambling both on and off the course. It’s known that she likes to make bets on the course during practice rounds with fellow Tour pros, but she’s now made it clear she likes to spend some time in the casinos as well.
“Now I'm old enough to enjoy, and, yeah, I'm here this week and just a little bit of gambling, playing golf,” said Park. “It's just a lot of fun and I just really enjoy this week.”
Harrah’s Casino plays host to the pro-am party on Wednesday night and it would be no surprise to see Park raising the stakes at a table or two. The South Korean ranks 26th all-time on the LPGA Career Money List with $6,145,494 earnings in her seven-year career.
“I think I can play everything,” said Park. “I like playing craps.”
Striiiiiiiiike! Gerina Piller’s first dream didn’t involve her becoming a professional golfer. Instead the Roswell, New Mexico native grew up wanting to play for a Major League Baseball team. So it’s no surprise that Piller takes it seriously when she gets the opportunity to throw a first pitch at a baseball game.
Piller threw out the first pitch for the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws, a Minor League affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, on Tuesday night. Standing 60 feet away from home plate on the mound, Piller threw a perfect strike to showcase her own baseball skills. A self-described diehard baseball fan, Piller got the opportunity to meet former Phillies second baseman Mickey Morandini, who is now the manager of the BlueClaws.
Tweet of the Day: Goes to Sweden’s Pernilla Lindberg who gave props to tournament organizers for providing some nutritious options this week to players.
“Excited about all the healthy food in player dining for both breakfast & lunch this week @ShopRiteLPGA. Hoping for more @lpga events to follow” --@pernillagolf
Quotable: “Earlier in the year, I won two times this year, and she said, "Let's share some wins." That's what she said. So she finally won, she finally won, so it's really good for her.” –Inbee Park on fellow South Korean Ilhee Lee who earned her first win last week in the Bahamas
Of Note…2005 U.S. Women’s Open champion Birdie Kim won the Monday Qualifier shooting a 65 on the Bay Course. Dina Ammaccapane, who was a rookie on the LPGA Tour in 1993, outlasted Marcela Leon in the three-hole playoff for the second qualifying spot
THE MODERATOR: I'd like to welcome in Rolex Rankings No. 1, Inbee Park, into the media center, thanks for coming in.
INBEE PARK: You're welcome.
THE MODERATOR: How is everything going? Coming off of a pretty unusual week in the Bahamas, you guys were shortened to 36 holes, a lot of delays. Just talk about how you're feeling coming into this week and coming off what was a unique week last week.
INBEE PARK: Yeah, it was a new one, first‑time experience obviously, a new one and it was a little bit different. I didn't play my best last week, but just hit a couple of bad shots and that was it. So just try to start off fresh this week. Looking forward to playing more golf again.
THE MODERATOR: Talk about your routine of last week, everyone was on delays and on a different path of holes everything and last week. Did that throw your routine off, or is that hard to try to get into your mind‑set of sticking to your game plan and sticking to your shots?
INBEE PARK: It was a little bit difficult for me because I've never experienced that before, and playing different holes at different times. But the thing is, this happened the same to everybody. So I think it was quite a fair tournament. It's just another experience and just one bad tournament doesn't really mean anything. So yeah, trying to do my best this week.
THE MODERATOR: Everyone said it's not the worst place to have that happen at down in Atlantis and you got a lot of extracurriculars in. Tell us about what you did off the course and what you enjoyed the most.
INBEE PARK: It was fun, the beach and the ocean was beautiful there. I've never something like that before, so it was great.
Yeah, I did jet‑skiing; I swimmed; pretty much everything that I could do out there. We had a lot of time off, so I was able to enjoy Atlantis, so that was nice.
THE MODERATOR: Is that the first vacation destination with your fiancé?
INBEE PARK: Yeah, I think that would be one of the places I would want to go again, yeah. It was very enjoyable and I enjoyed that. Actually didn't want to leave that. Everybody was saying, I was sick of this place and I want to leave, but I wasn't; I wanted to stay one more week there.
THE MODERATOR: Possible honeymoon destination? Is it on the short list?
INBEE PARK: I don't know, that's a little bit farther away from Korea.
THE MODERATOR: So looking back to last year here, I just looked, you were ranked No. 26 in the Rolex Rankings. It's been quite a year since then. You've done a lot of work, a lot of wins, five wins; right after shop right last year you kind of started going on your war path of wins and Top 10s and really starting to click. Looking back to a year ago, how much different of a player do you think you were coming to this tournament last year to now?
INBEE PARK: Yeah, we looked at the rankings and I looked, too, and we were thinking until last year at this point, I had never finished Top‑10 in last year till now, and I have already three wins this year.
So I've been having a really lot of success this year, and it's been ‑‑ sure feels like longer than one year, but it's only been one year. I mean, everything just happened really quick, and just last year here ‑‑ I've been playing really good last year until this point but I just really had bad final rounds every week. I was in Top‑5 almost every week but this last round, I played really bad and finished 20th, 30th.
Then after this week, I started putting really good. The ball‑striking got better, but yeah, I think that putting has been really a big key to my success last year after this point.
THE MODERATOR: We always talk about handling the pressure of No. 1, since you've taken over, has not really seemed to have gotten to you. You've handled very well all of the off‑course stuff, on‑course pressure, is it still ‑‑ answering the questions about being No. 1, dealing with the title, has it changed at all, or do you think you're still pretty on track with handling it the way you want to.
INBEE PARK: Yeah, I'm not trying to think that I'm the No. 1 player. I just try to think I'm one of the players out here trying to win the tournament. That's what I'm trying to concentrate every week.
Yeah, if you too much think about being No. 1, or I have to maintain No. 1 and I have to win every week, I mean, I'm just trying to enjoy the golf and enjoy the tournament. That's all I really ask for. Other people might think, you know, my family, fans, they might think, you have to be No. 1 forever. What I'm trying to do is just enjoy my life. That's what I try to do.
Q. You mentioned last year the putting. Anything else specifically change after this tournament that got you on a good run, and just what about putting, did you change anything there?
INBEE PARK: I was just going through a big swing change last year in the off‑season, two years ago in the off‑season, and my swing was a little bit uncomfortable to this point. I was playing really good, hitting the ball really good until the third round, until the final round.
After I got to the final round under pressure, I was hitting a lot of loose shots but I had a lot of experience with that last year. And then after this tournament, I was able to finish off strong and really got comfortable with my swing last year. So yeah, that's been the big key. The putting, obviously, it was a big key, too.
Q. You had success when you first came out, and then you dropped off a little bit. Are you mentally better able to handle the success now than you were back then?
INBEE PARK: Yeah, I think so, because I've done that before and I've gone through the bad times before, and I'm a lot older now than before.
Yeah, I mean, experience has really helped me. Yeah, I was able to handle the pressure a little bit better now than before.
Q. What do you think of this course and how does it suit your game and what do you think you have to do well to play well this week?
INBEE PARK: I think this week, reading the greens is tough. They have a lot of small ridges here and there that you really have to pay attention to.
And ball‑striking, the course is playing pretty short two years ago, but it rained a lot yesterday and it's going to play longer tomorrow. Going to hit maybe a little longer irons than when I played a practice round.
So I think it's mostly the putting that you have to read, getting the speed right and getting the breaks right. It was pretty tough when I was playing a practice round.
Q. Was it a difficult decision to make those swing changes, or did you know that something had to change to get your game going in that direction?
INBEE PARK: I think I should have done that before but I really wasn't confident enough to do it. But you know, two years ago, I think that was a time that I really needed a swing change, and I was hitting the ball really bad, so I didn't really have a choice. I had to do something to proceed on golfing.
Q. You talked about last year; was there like a moment or a round or anything where you kind of just said to yourself, you know, I get this; now I see what I have to do?
INBEE PARK: Last year, beginning of the year, my goal was just finish in Top‑10 in one tournament, and that really usually gets me going for the rest of the year. Usually Top‑10 finish for me gives me a lot of confidence, and it happened last year at Wegman's and after that I've been playing very good.
Until this point, I was playing really good, and then the last round, I just had a bad round and couldn't finish in the Top‑10. But the Wegman's last year really gave me a lot of confidence.
Q. As you're going through that swing change, and I'm sure some difficult times trying to get that, could you ever have imagined that it would be the result of that?
INBEE PARK: I knew that I was going the right way, but I didn't know if I would be able to be that comfortable with the swing this quick. I thought it would maybe take a couple years. I was expecting myself to be comfortable after two years, but it came a lot quicker than I thought. You know, it has been working really good. Sometimes I have bad swings, but most of the times I have better swings than before, so that's been a success.
Q. You went to high school in Vegas; we have a casino down here, do you see any similarities and will you go down to Atlantic City this week?
INBEE PARK: I'm staying close this week, so I'm just right there. When I was living there, I was in high school, so I really didn't get to gamble much. I was really young to enjoy Las Vegas. Now I'm old enough to enjoy, and, yeah, I'm here this week and just a little bit of gambling, playing golf. It's just a lot of fun and I just really enjoy this week.
THE MODERATOR: I remember at Kraft you said you like to gamble and bet ‑‑ that's what Sun Young was saying, you guys like to do bets. What you are your favorite casino games? I know you like to bet on the course, but do you like blackjack, slots? What's your go‑to game?
INBEE PARK: I think I can play everything. I like playing craps.
THE MODERATOR: Okay. I'll come with you. You can help me out.
Fellow South Korean Ilhee Lee just won last week; Jennifer Johnson won the week before, two first‑time winners. Talk about the sign of having two up‑and‑coming stars and new, emerging talent; I don't want to scare you, but for up‑and‑coming players that are emerging as threats each week. Obviously we said it's so competitive out here and it's so hard to win, but two new ones that are becoming, I want to say, competitors, on a week‑to‑week basis, what does that have to say for the Tour and the talent on it?
INBEE PARK: It's really good for the Tour when you have a lot of different winners. It's good to have everybody actually have success on the Tour and everybody is competitive enough to win every week and we are not just playing against five people; we are actually playing against a hundred people. I think that's very good competition for everybody, and I think that really makes everybody play better every week and gave motivation to each other.
Yeah, I think that's been a big help. I know Ilhee, she has been going through some tough times, came to America, and, yeah, it's really good for her. Earlier in the year, I won two times this year, and she said, "Let's share some wins." That's what she said. So she finally won, she finally won, so it's really good for her.
THE MODERATOR: How long have you guys known each other?
INBEE PARK: Since she came to America I started to see her, yeah, so like three years.
THE MODERATOR: Has she ever asked you for advice, except for asking for one of your wins?
INBEE PARK: Well, she says sometimes she else me, "Just teach me." But she's been doing really good on herself, and she travels by herself a lot of the time, so I think that's really good for her, somebody that just came from Korea, yeah. She's a good girl.
THE MODERATOR: We've heard her story about how she's staying with host families to try to learn English. Obviously you've gone through that; in terms of just telling a story of the struggles of coming and playing on the Tour, and mostly in America, what does that have to say for someone who, like you said, has gone through the struggles but has a win under her belt and is so much more comfortable in front of the media and doing things like that. What does that say for Ilhee?
INBEE PARK: I think last week will give a big confidence boost for her career. Finally she won, so she kind of knows now how to win and how to handle the pressure. I think she will win moreover the years, and she'll be able to handle the pressure.
I think experience is really important; that she might not win every week, but once she wins and once she knows how to handle the pressure and how to win the tournament, I think it just really helps.