There is something about familiarity that breeds contentment for Annie Park. Her greatest successes have come close to family and friends. So maybe returning to the ShopRite Classic this week, where last year she grabbed her first LPGA victory, will get Park back on the right road now that she’s just a couple hours down the New Jersey Turnpike from her New York roots.
"It was really exciting to get my first win at the ShopRite, my whole family came out,” Park said, looking back on 2018. “I was born and raised in New York. To have my first win so close to home was something special.”
Park returns to the Jersey Shore off a difficult stretch in which she's missed four cuts in five starts, including last week’s U.S. Women’s Open. But in the one cut she made, Park was a strong T-3 at the HUGEL-Air Premia LA Open, at Wilshire Country Club, not far from where she attend the University of Southern California.
“Yeah, it's nice,” Park said at the LA Open. “I have my friends and family here. Nice to have that support. I call California my second home just because I went to school here. My sister actually got me a sweater, 'New York is my Baby, but L.A. is my Boo,' which is totally me,” meaning both have a special place in her heart.
Park, 24, has known success at every level. She won the 2012 Nassau Country High School Championship, despite being one of only two girls in the 135-person field. She helped USC to the NCAA team championship in 2013 and won the individual title. When she turned pro in 2015, Park won three times on the Symetra Tour to qualify for the 2016 LPGA season.
Then the road she traveled, relatively smooth up until then, threw a few speed bumps at her as the first two seasons she had her LPGA card included 20 missed cuts. She considered walking away from it all.
“I had a bad year and I just didn’t want to go through all of the travel and not playing well,” she said. “I was looking at other jobs and my sister said, ‘Give it one last shot and give it 150 percent.’ And so, last year was that year for me, and I got reshuffled in, got the win, and kind of changed up a lot of things,” Park said.
A change on the greens helped in that revitalization. Park switched to a long putter after the 2017 season.
“I'm pretty adaptable to change,” she said. “I think I adjusted well within like a week, just practicing on the putting green and on the course.”
Last year, she made to the weekend in 16 of 19 events, adding a T-2 at the Buick Shanghai to her win at ShopRite.
While the assumption is that winning puts you on the right road, the reality is that it merely puts you on a different road. You still have to figure out how to travel it and still have to negotiate potholes.
One of the cuts Park missed this year was at the ANA Inspiration, where she awoke to find that her clubs had been stolen from her car parked in the hotel lot. Playing with a hodgepodge set, she shot 76-78.
Overall, Park has been just a tad off this year. Her stats show that she’s No. 113 in greens in regulation, No. 79 in putts per GIR and No. 59 in scoring. Those are not horrible numbers, but they are certainly not where she expected to be after getting that breakthrough win a year ago.
Through this difficult stretch Park has maintained her perspective on how fortunate she is to play golf for a living and how important it is to meet the obligations that come with her position.
“I want to inspire young girls to do what they do and not give up,” she says, in a personal mantra that echoes the LPGA’s Drive On marketing message. “What the LPGA does with charities like at ShopRite is something I’m proud to be a part of.”
When someone from New Jersey meets another from the Garden State the first question is often: “Which exit?” Geography in Jersey is referenced in relationship to where you live off either the New Jersey Turnpike or the Garden State Parkway.
When Park, who was born and raised in Levittown, N.Y., off the Long Island Expressway and in the shadow of New York City’s skyscrapers, is asked where she’s from she says: “Two exits from Bethpage.” The girl speaks Jersey and going back to her baby could be all the boo she needs.
“It’s going to be fun,” she said at the Women’s Open about returning to ShopRite. “Hearing yourself introduced as the defending champ on the first tee is going to be pretty cool.”
The Atlantic City exit could be the ramp that puts Park back on the right road. Certainly, it's a good place to start.