Park Now Has Place On A USGA Trophy

Southern Cal Teen Not Denied In Third Match-Play Final

 

By David Shefter, USGA

 

Erie, Pa. – As Jane Park left the post-championship ceremony at the 2003 U.S. Women's Amateur, winner Virada Nirapathpongporn whispered a couple of encouraging words into the young 16-year-old's ear.

 

“She told me, ‘next year is your time,’ ” Park recalled.

 

It's one of those worn-out sports clichés. Wait until next year.

Chicago Cubs fans have been saying that since 1908. The Boston Red Sox faithful have been waiting since 1919. The Buffalo Bills made it to four consecutive Super Bowls and never took home the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

 

Jane Park got the proverbial monkey off her back on Sunday by winning the Women's Amateur. She had lost two previous USGA amateur match-play championship finals, including the 2003 Women's Am at Philadelphia C.C. (Steve Gibbons/USGA)

Jane Park didn't want that label to follow her around. Eighty-two years ago, Margaret Gavin lost to the legendary Glenna Collett. It was the third time she had reached the championship match and her third defeat.

 

On Sunday at The Kahkwa Club, Park, 17, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., found herself competing for yet another USGA title. It was the third time in her last four USGA competitions that the southern Californian had won five matches to reach the ultimate round, but she had only two silver medals to show for that effort.

There was the 2-and-1 loss to Nirapathpongporn and the 20-hole defeat to Julieta Granada at the 2004 U.S. Girls' Junior last month in Fort Worth, Texas.

 

So she was due for a breakthrough. Then again, Paula Creamer, another highly talented teen from California had advanced to four consecutive semifinals at USGA match-play amateur events and failed to get beyond that point, the latest coming in a 6-and-4 defeat to Park's championship-final opponent, feisty Amanda McCurdy of El Dorado, Ark.

 

On a glorious Sunday for golf – sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-70s – Park finally ended the drought. A gritty 2-up victory gave the 2004 USA Curtis Cupper ownership of the prestigious Robert F. Cox Cup, signifying that she was a national champion. When Jeanne Myers, chairman of the USGA Women's Committee, put the gold medal around her neck at the prize ceremony near the 18th green, the moment had arrived.

 

“I'm like Phil Mickelson,” said Park of the PGA Tour pro who finally won a major title this year at the Masters after many near-misses. “I got the monkey off my back. Coming in second twice … that's pretty awesome. But coming in first is a whole new thing. I can't even put into words how happy I am.”

 

Park finished the 36-hole marathon final the equivalent of three under par (141), the same score as her 20-year-old opponent. The difference was on the greens. When Park needed to hole a putt, she did. She birdied three of the first five holes of the afternoon 18. Even though McCurdy eventually got the match back to 1 up, she could not fully overcome the deficit.

 

“I ran into a freight train today on the front nine [of the afternoon 18],” McCurdy said of Park's three birdies in a five-hole stretch that gave her a 3-up lead after the two were all square following the morning 18. “She just played great.”

 

Even though she has yet to graduate from high school and McCurdy will be a junior at the University of Arkansas this fall, Park was actually the more-experienced player. Her USGA match-play record prior to Sunday's final was an astonishing 24-6. Tiger Woods had the best winning percentage with a 42-3 mark in nine USGA match-play competitions (he failed to qualify for match play at the 1991 U.S. Amateur).

 

McCurdy was playing in her first Women's Amateur and had lost in the second round of match play at the 2003 Women's Amateur Public Links. But Park didn't take anything for granted, especially after getting a glimpse of McCurdy's game for the first time.

“As you guys can see, she can hit the green from behind a tree,” said Park. “It was, oh my gosh, she hit every green today (actually 28 of 36). It was amazing to see her hit every green. It's because she has this low, boring shot. Even if she's in the rough she rolls it up onto the green. She didn't crack under pressure.”

 

Neither did Park, despite losing the 33rd and 35th holes with bogeys. With her 31-year-old cousin, Jung Park, keeping her calm, Jane Park coolly hit her approach to the 36th green some 12 feet above the hole to secure the victory.

 

Jung Park has been an instrumental part of Park's USGA run. He has been on the bag for all but one of her USGA competitions, missing only this year's Women's Open at The Orchards Golf Club when Jane elected to use a member. She missed the cut.

 

“It's not so much about reading greens or knowing the course,” said Jung, who likely will be on the bag when Park competes in the 2005 Women's Open at Cherry Hills Country Club, for which she is exempt provided she remains an amateur. “You just have to keep her calm.

 

“We finally got one. I thought we should have got one last year or at the [Girls'] Junior. I told her as long as we keep it close, down then end we are going to prevail. And that's what happened.”

 

The toughest part of Park's week might be Sunday night, faced with a 10-hour car trip back to Chicago where she was to catch a 6:30 a.m. flight to Los Angeles. On Monday night, she was scheduled to be at Dodger Stadium for a ceremony honoring Korean-American athletes.

 

Such is the whirlwind tour of an elite amateur golfer. Park likely will learn sometime early this week that she'll be named to the USA Women's World Amateur squad that will compete in Puerto Rico October 20-23.

 

“I'm going to have to go back home and see my schedule and see if I have anything [going on] and okay it with my school first,” said Park, who already has competed in one international event, the Curtis Cup Match in June at Formby Golf Club in Merseyside, England.

 

When Park went into the Kahkwa clubhouse for a toast to the champion, the members filled her glass with ginger ale. At 17, Park is still a minor and can't legally consume alcohol (normally the champ gets some champagne). When she guzzled the beverage, her father Frank Park did a double take thinking it was the ‘real' bubbly.

 

He probably wouldn't have minded had she snuck a sip of Dom Perignon, but one thing Park definitely gets to enjoy is the lovely trophy. She hasn't decided on a permanent home – it could be in Chicago with relatives or in southern California. One thing is for sure, her name will go right above 1954 Women's Amateur champion Barbara Romack, who was here this week assisting in the media room.

 

“I can't believe I'm a USGA champion,” said Park. “And being up there with those names, Bobby Jones, Tiger Woods, Carol Semple Thompson. It's awesome. I love it.”

 

David Shefter is a USGA staff writer. E-mail him with comments or questions at dshefter@usga.org.

 

 

 

 

 

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