Another summer season of junior golf has begun, and for the class of 2011 it will be their last before playing at the collegiate level.
One of those seniors, Rika Park, says she can’t believe she’s done with high school at Heritage Academy, which is in Hilton Head Island, S.C. After four short years she has accomplished a lot on and off the golf course, especially being so far away from home.
“It’s weird how fast the time goes by – four years ago I came here from Japan and didn’t know any English, and now here I am, speaking English with you and graduating high school here. It’s pretty cool and it’s weird,” Park said.
She may feel weird about graduating high school, but there is nothing weird about her ability as a golfer. She maintains a plus-1.5 handicap and has had an outstanding senior season so far, including five first place finishes in IJGT tournaments and a first-place finish at the Kathy Whitworth Invitational.
Being away from her hometown, Fujieda-Shi-Shizuoka, Japan, hasn’t always been easy. Earlier this March, Rika was playing in a tournament when the devastating earthquakes and tsunami struck Japan. Rika carried a heavy heart, thinking about her people and feeling like there was little she could do to help.
“I had some guilt because I am here and my people in Japan are suffering, and what can I do?” she said. “People didn’t have shelter and food and clothes, so I thought maybe I could help people by raising the money in IJGA.”
With the help of Heritage Academy and the IJGT, Park was able to raise $3,120 and furthermore, the Junior Golf Corporation matched the funds for grand total of $6,240, which was sent to the Japanese Red Cross.
The tournament she was playing in during those difficult days was the Kathy Whitworth, where she went on to win with a 67-73 by two shots.
Park, who will be attending the University of Miami in the fall, has one short summer left before she transitions to the college level, and she’s excited for her final junior golf tournaments to help prepare for the next step.
Two events that she is particularly focused on are the AJGA Rolex Girl’s Junior Championship, which will be her last AJGA tournament, and a U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifier in North Carolina. To prepare for these events, Park knows what areas of her game she needs to improve.
“I need to work on my short game, especially putting, and keep myself in good shape,” she said. Park, who stands at a mighty 5-feet-1-inch. She’s mindful of the importance of strength training and maintains a good diet to gain extra distance.
“I’m not that tall and I don’t hit it very far, so I have to train myself and have a good body to hit the ball farther,” she said.
Park has many strengths in her game, which have been proven by her success this year alone. She said her favorite distance is anything inside 100 yards and she likes using her wedges.
“I’m hitting the ball well right now, but I just need to make a couple of putts to make it all work,” she said.
As far as college preparation goes, Park is not sure what to expect from the whole experience, but she’s keeping an open mind and is ready to work hard.
“I have no idea what the college life is like so I am a little nervous, but will just do what I need to do and make goals to achieve what I want to do,” she said.