Ranked just outside the top-25 in the Rolex Rankings before the Wegmans LPGA Championship last year, Park had been waiting for the swing change she made during the offseason to come into fruition. Then, in the 10th tournament of the 2012 season, Park’s tie for ninth at the season’s second major marked the beginning of a year-long surge that would eventually place her in the No. 1 spot in women’s golf.
With 16 top-10 finishes including six tournament wins and two major titles since then, at times Park finds herself in disbelief when she looks back on her rapid rise to the top.
“Looking back now, that small achievement was what I needed to give me confidence in my game,” said Park, who last week became only the seventh LPGA player in history to win the first two LPGA majors of the season. “I couldn’t believe it myself, what I was able to do afterward. I don’t think it’s something I ever thought would happen, and now I have five wins and a lot of top-10s and very consistent playing. It’s something I always dreamed of achieving.”
The South Korean claimed the coveted No. 1 ranking from Stacy Lewis, who held the position for four weeks, after her win at the Kraft Nabisco Championship back in April. It’s been a battle between the two since then but Park’s levelheaded nature is her strength and that ease in her current position showed when faced with questions as to whether or not she will maintain her position.
“I think there will always be a target on my back,” said Park. “Being the No. 1 player, I think everyone is trying to chase me and everybody wants to be No. 1. That was my goal my entire life and I’m sure that goes for every other golfer on Tour.
“But, you know, I’ve done it and my belief is that whether I’m there for 8 weeks or 4 years, I’ve already proven to myself that I can be the No. 1 player and that’s been the most rewarding thing. If I’ve done it before, I know I can do it again.”
Park is now recognized as a celebrity back in South Korea, tending to media requests, photo shoots and signing autographs while seen in public. But the sudden popularity doesn’t seem to faze her. The spotspoken 24-year-old embraces the position in all its glory.
“A lot of things have changed outside the golf course but I try to enjoy it,” said Park. “It’s something I’ve always wanted. Sometimes it’s hard because I don’t have my time to relax but, you know, I’m going to play golf forever so I can relax when I retire. I try to enjoy whatever this position may bring.”
So, how does Park handle the pressure? She says it’s simple.
“The most important thing that I think about is I just really enjoy the game,” said Park. “When I started traveling with my fiancé, I just started enjoying the Tour more and once I started enjoying it more my results got better. And that’s something that I try to do every week. I think because of that I haven’t been feeling that much pressure. It’s important to not think about the results and low numbers. I’m just trying to enjoy life and that’s really the most important thing.”
The South Korean has now positioned herself as one of the most silent but deadliest golfers on the LPGA Tour. With a slow and steady swing and flawless putting stroke, Park credits her swing coach turned fiancé for her success through his guidance over the past year and a half.
“I mean he’s very proud of me but I think of himself, too,” said Park. “When he started working with me, I wasn’t having very good results or very good finishes and I mean I think we’re just really happy that we got together and start traveling together. I think we’ve made a pretty good team and we’re really happy.”
Park currently holds the lead in the Rolex Player of the Year race and ranks in the top-10 in eight statistical categories including No. 1 in putting average. With the success she’s had in the past year, she’s on her way to achieving something no other Korean has done on the LPGA Tour.
“Player of the Year would be great, last year I was close but I got Vare Trophy and first on the money list,” said Park. “Stacy had such an amazing year last year. But hopefully this year I can finish off really well and get that award. No Korean has ever gotten that award so that would be huge for my country.”