ORLANDO, Fla. – Midway through her post-round interview, the timid, soft-spoken Annie Park was interrupted by a deep, ominous voice from across the cart lot.
The 16-year-old Park spun around to see tiny Rachel Dai, a fellow competitor who had just heard that Park’s win at the Golfweek Junior Invitational was now official. The reaction was appropriate, as Park was in her own class this weekend in Orlando, closing in 4-under 68 to claim a four-shot win at Shingle Creek on Sunday.
Starting on the easier back nine, Park went out in even-par 36, but she birdied four of the front nine’s opening five holes (Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 5) before making pars at the final four. Park finished four shots ahead of Laura Restrepo (74-70) of Panama and Samantha Marks (74-70) of Maitland, Fla. Dai and Rinko Mitsunaga finished T-4 at 145, while Nelly Korda, 13-year-old sister of Jessica Korda, was among a group of players at 146.
“I don’t want to say my putting was better, but I did make more long putts for birdies,” said Park, who earlier this year was a semifinalist at the Women’s Amateur Public Links. “I hit a lot more greens today than yesterday.”
The improved ballstriking is more of an accomplishment than it might seem for Park – who is only a week into using a new set of irons (Ping Ansers).
“We got snow last week in New York, so I had no idea what my distances with these clubs were,” said Park, of Levittown, N.Y.
Park works with instructor Sean Foley and said the two of them have focused most this year on her backswing and impact position.
“That’s why I was hitting it all over yesterday,” she said with a laugh. While her ballstriking is on the way up, the real difference in her game has been her putting.
“Last year, I was struggling so much with my putting and my ranking just plummeted,” said Park, who is taking unofficial visits to Duke and Vanderbilt. “I had two putters at the beginning of this year, but I took one out finally because I didn’t like it. It’s starting to get better now.”
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James Yoon, 18, can attest to just how important mental strength is to the game of golf.
Yoon, who closed with a flawless 5-under 67 to claim a four-shot win at Shingle Creek, said he’s had a tough time adjusting to the premier levels of junior golf. That’s where his mental coach came in.
“It took two years before I was comfortable out here,” Yoon said, “but I believe in myself now. I feel like I belong out here, rather than just playing for a top-10. I feel like I’m becoming one of the top players.”
Yoon attends the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and has been working with Christian Smith and Nathan Bertsch since his former coach, David Madras, left the academy.
“They made me believe that I’m a better player,” Yoon said. “Even when I’m not playing my best, I now believe that I should be shooting under par and it’s really helping.”
Making three birdies and an eagle at No. 12, Yoon finished four shots ahead of Lee McCoy and Johan Werge Sunday to earn his first victory since the Scott Robertson Memorial in May.
McCoy, the runner-up at the AJGA’s Rolex Tournament of Champions, had the round of the day – a seven-birdie 66 that included four straight birdies.
“I play my best golf when I’m really calm and I just had that feeling today,” said McCoy, a Georgia commit. “Everything just felt real loose and in control. On holes nine through 12 (all birdies), my average length of putt was probably 2 feet. It was just tap-ins. It was fun.”