Park Has Been Here Before
By Ken Klavon, USGA
North Plains, Ore. – Jane Park remembers how sore her feet were.
She was just about to win the 2004 U.S. Women’s Amateur at The Kahkwa Club and she couldn’t stop thinking about the physical fatigue that ransacked her body. That’s the price for winning this championship, something she’ll never forget.
“My feet were really torn up,” said Park who beat Amanda McCurdy in the final that year. “In the finals, they were taking a pounding.”
No doubt about it, winning the Women’s Amateur exacts a physical and mental toll. As mentally drained as she was that week, Park felt the physical side was more brutal.
“It’s really, really hard [to win],” said Park on Saturday at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club. “It’s a week of long and almost never-ending golf. It keeps coming and coming and coming.”
Consider that the odds of winning are stacked against everyone. Only one in the field of 156 can win, which equates to less than one percent success rate. In order to win, a player must survive two days of stroke-play qualifying, then get through six matches, the last of which is prolonged into 36 holes. In other words, it ain’t easy.
Park, the inspirational leader of the USA team that recently won the Curtis Cup Match, will be playing in her fourth Women’s Amateur. Amazingly, she has never had to qualify, earning exemptions into all of them. Her USGA resume at 19 years old is something to behold: five U.S. Girls’ Juniors (runner-up in 2004); runner-up and champion in four tries in the Women’s Amateur; and a participant in four U.S. Women’s Opens. In fact, she played in the 2003 Women’s Open at Pumpkin Ridge and tied for 30th. That experience helped her label the Witch Hollow track as “my favorite course,” she said.
There was a time not too long ago that Park had nearly had her fill of golf. No, her situation wasn’t akin to that of 2005 U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell, who out of sheer frustration wanted to cut up his clubs and banish them forever in the late 1990s. But prior to starting her freshman year at UCLA in 2005, Park recognized that she wasn’t performing up to her standards. She admitted as much at Newport Country Club after holding the first-round lead in the Women’s Open.
She decided to pull back and take time off, book-ending the 2005 and ’06 Women’s Opens as her only two pro events. The reduced schedule helped clear her mind and make some decisions about her future.
The sophomore-to-be at UCLA has hinted that this will be her final Women’s Amateur, indicating that she’ll turn professional soon. If so, it’ll be a definite loss to the world of amateurs. Through it all, she’s always remained grounded, almost modest to a fault. An example of that can be found in her unease with being labeled a favorite this week even though she’s a proven quantity.
“No, I wouldn’t go as far to say I’m a favorite,” she said. “I’m just out here to have a good time and have fun. It’s not a matter of life and death. I’m playing a game I love.”
One of the reasons why she doesn’t feel like a world-beater is because of her putting. At the Curtis Cup, she fought the flat stick in her matches despite going 3-0-1. On the practice range Saturday Park told her cousin and caddie, Jung Park, as well as a couple of other players that she needed to get her putting in check quickly. She practiced for more than an hour.
This week, Park joins 57-year-old Carol Semple Thompson (1973) as the only two players in the field who have won the championship. Semple Thompson captained the USA Curtis Cup squad last week at Pacific Dunes and came away impressed with Park’s leadership qualities. So did teammates Amanda Blumenherst and Jennie Lee, who are both in the Women’s Amateur field. Semple Thompson also learned, as she makes the transition back to player this week, that she’s not exactly envious of facing Park if the two are to qualify for match play.
“If I go up against a Jane Park,” said Semple Thompson, “I know I’ll have to play good golf.”
Whether Park realizes it or not, one couldn’t receive a higher compliment coming from a legend. Now, as the sun continues to set on an outstanding amateur career, the best going away present would be, simply, to win.
“It would definitely be my greatest accomplishment,” she said.
Another one of many.
Ken Klavon is the USGA’s Web Editor. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.