GALLOWAY, N.J. – Through all of her struggles in trying to succeed on the LPGA Tour, Annie Park could look back with confidence on the best tournament of her 46 previous starts, the 2016 ShopRite LPGA Classic, where she finished in a tie for sixth place after firing a 63 in the final round.
So what better place to capture her first LPGA victory than the Bay Course of Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club, where another final-round 8-under-par 63 Sunday was good enough to put her in the winner’s circle?
Park, 23, who won the 2013 NCAA championship as a freshman at Southern California, carded an eagle and six birdies to defeat Japan’s Sakura Yokomine by one stroke with a 54-hole score of 16-under 197.
“It’s crazy,” said Park, who entered the tournament with a world ranking of 236. “I can’t describe in words how I feel. It’s my first win out on tour. Every win is very special but just having my family out here, my friends supporting me. … Without them and having that support, I probably wouldn’t have been here today.”
Park, from Levittown, N.Y., did not have full status on the LPGA Tour at the start of 2018, with her only tournament action coming in two Symetra Tour events. But she played her way into April’s Mediheal Championship in the San Francisco Bay Area by qualifying the Monday before the tournament and tied for 18th, winning more than $17,000 and improving her priority rank.
“It’s been a crazy first half of the year, having partial status and juggling between the Symetra Tour and the LPGA Tour,” she said. “The Mediheal tournament really got it going. Having this first win, it’s been crazy. So struggling through a back injury last year, definitely hasn’t been easy coming to this win, but definitely worth it.”
Park utilizes a long putter and had it working throughout the round. She rolled in several long putts, including a 60-footer for eagle 3 at No. 9, and a 30-foot birdie putt at No. 14. Even though she three-putted for a par-5 on 18, she had enough to outdistance Yokomine, who finished about an hour ahead of her.
Of Seaview, she said, “I really like this golf course.
“Honestly, growing up playing a lot of links golf courses, I think that really helped a lot,” she said. “Definitely a lot more comfortable out here just because I’m so familiar with the grass, the course layout, everything, even the weather. That makes a huge difference.”
Yokomine, 32, who has won 23 times on the Japan LPGA Tour, but is ranked No. 219 in the world, had everyone thinking history for a while. After a 10-foot birdie putt at 17 got her to 10-under for the round, she needed an eagle at the par-5 18th to join Annika Sorenstam as the only women to card a 59 in competition.
However, she had to settle for par and finished with a 61, tying the course record that had been set about six hours before by Sei Young Kim. Kim finished off her second round Sunday morning and birdied the last two holes for her 61.
Marina Alex, from Wayne, N.J., aced the 17th in a round of 64 that resulted in a third-place finish at 199. Kim struggled down the stretch and shot 70 for fourth at 200.
For Park, who played her first two rounds paired with Pennsbury High School graduate and Penn State player Jackie Rogowicz, it was a milestone win.
“Coming into this year, I’ve never felt more ready,” she said. “That Monday qualifier really changed things around. Getting this first win, it’s been a crazy, crazy last few weeks.”