BEDMINSTER – N.J. – Sung Hyun Park’s fan club – some 50 strong from South Korea – had their congratulatory banners packed just in case.
Their overseas trek proved worthwhile when the player whose nickname translates to “Shut up and attack!” posted a pair of 67s on the weekend to claim the 72nd U.S. Women’s Open.
“It’s almost like I’m floating on a cloud in the sky,” Park said through an interpreter.
The rookie made her first victory on the LPGA a major, as she finished two shots clear of amateur Hye-Jin Choi at 11-under 277. Choi, a 17-year-old from South Korea, was tied with Park when she stood on the tee of the par-3 16th. Her dream run all but vanquished when she rinsed her tee shot with a 7-iron from 142 yards.
“At the time I felt that all this work, hard work I put together, was going to disappear,” said Choi, who went on to post a double bogey. She rebounded on the 18th with birdie, however, to record a four-day total of 279, the lowest score by an amateur in championship history. She also became the fourth amateur to finish solo second at the Women’s Open.
A staggering eight South Koreans finished in the top 10. Marina Alex, who hails from nearby Wayne, N.J., was the top American at T-11.
Eight South Koreans have won on the LPGA in 2017, and natives of that country have won seven of the last 10 U.S. Women’s Opens.
Park, 23, held the 36-hole lead in her U.S. Women’s Open debut last year at CordeValle but ultimately tied for third after a final-round 74. This year Park said she came into the weekend at Trump National feeling more relaxed, though with a face that rarely changes it would be almost impossible to tell.
Caddie David Jones began working with Park six weeks ago at the ShopRite LPGA Classic. When she showed up in Bedminster, he could immediately tell she’d made great strides in her short game in her week off following the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Quite simply, he said, she learned to chip.
On Thursday Jones said his boss’ game was “nothing short of horrendous.” The only thing that kept in her the tournament was her touch around the greens. Park opened with a 1-over 73 and found her stride over the weekend.
Interestingly, it was a testy 14-yard chip shot from over the green on the 72nd hole that sealed the title for Park. She nestled it to 18 inches.
“My mind basically went blank,” she said of her thoughts over that final chip.
“To be honest with you, I was actually surprised myself.”
The 10-time winner on the Korean LPGA owns one of the finest swings in golf but has no instructor. Park videos her own swing and “analyzes as many times as I can.”
What do her peers on tour think of her potential?
“Her nickname on tour is Tiger Woods,” Jones said. “That kind of says it all.”