As the spring season progresses, Golfweek is monitoring the race for the inaugural Annika Award. An award update will be posted each Friday on Golfweek.com.
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Not quite one year ago, the first few heads turned in Annie Park’s direction. Barely two months after arriving a semester early at USC, she was still relatively unheard of when she won her first college title on March 5, 2013. Park shot 1-under 215 at the Bruin Wave Invitational, won by four shots and took the first step in an unusually direct path to Player of the Year.
Park earned her first college victory as a sophomore at the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge on Feb. 11. It helped her move from No. 10 to No. 1 in Golfweek‘s latest ranking (Feb. 17). It must feel good to be back – she held that position from early April on last spring – but Park is modest in saying so.
“I wasn’t really concerned about winning,” Park said after the Northrop Grumman. “I was more concerned about playing my game.”
Park’s Golfstat ranking (based on head-to-head performance) dove in the fall after she signed an incorrect scorecard at the Windy City Collegiate and was disqualified from the tournament. It was a small misstep that almost overshadowed her three other finishes of T-24, T-3 and second. It didn’t derail Park.
“I’m pleased with how I am improving,” she said in looking back at the fall.
For the most part, Park put the clubs away during a winter break spent back home on Long Island. She made a roadtrip to Orlando, Fla., to visit swing coach Sean Foley before heading back west, but unseasonably cold weather made it hard to hit the range. Foley and Park talked about her game instead, and Park left satisfied.
At USC, Park benefits from the team setting. Her Trojans are in the middle of an eight-tournament winning streak, and there is talent pushing its way into the lineup from every direction of that roster.
“I think what makes us good is we always strive to become better,” Park said. “I think every win motivates us to get better.”
At the Northrop Grumman, Park opened with consecutive rounds of 3-under 67 that allowed USC to take a 14-shot lead into the final round. Park had two eagles over the first two rounds, but bogeyed five consecutive holes (Nos. 13-17) in Round 3 on her way to a 73. She had built enough of a cushion that she still won by seven shot.
With that victory, women’s college golf is in a sort of deja vu. Once again, Park is a player to chase – in competition, in the Player of the Year race and for the first time this season, in the race for the inaugural Annika Award.
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Other notable players and performances:
Stephanie Meadow, Alabama
Golfweek/Sagarin ranking: 2
In a few words…Meadow co-medaled with Purdue’s Aurora Kan at the Lady Puerto Rico Classic on Feb. 18 for a ninth career collegiate victory. Her win column is now three times longer than any other player in Alabama history. Interestingly, Meadow is again ranked second to Park, and if that continues into the postseason, it sets up the exact scenario as last spring – now, of course, with the added Annika Award race.
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Alison Lee, UCLA
Golfweek/Sagarin ranking: 3
In a few words… Lee had been the top-ranked player in Golfweek’s ranking through the offseason, but lost that perch as Park and Meadow surged this week. She still earned a top-20 finish at the Northrop Grumman (T-18), and is hardly out of the picture.
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Sophia Popov, USC
Golfweek/Sagarin ranking: 7
In a few words…Though Park was the general star of the Northrop Grumman, Popov led the team in final-round scoring with a 72. Popov is a strong and spunky senior, and a fun player to watch.
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Alexandra Kaui, Oklahoma
Golfweek/Sagarin ranking: 14
In a few words… A cool, articulate freshman who helps define this year’s very talented freshman class. Among the best takeways of a post-Northrop Grumman interview with Golfweek (where Kaui tied for third) was this quote: “Even though every athlete is going to critique their own performance, I’m still going to say I played well at these tournaments and that being T-3 even after my triple on the last day just kind of shows that there is room for improvement.” (Full interview here)