Sung Hyun Park makes short work of LPGA Texas Classic

Sung Hyun Park, of South Korea, celebrates after she hit the ball in on the 18th green during the LPGA tour Volunteers of America Texas Shootout golf tournament in The Colony, Texas, Sunday, May 6, 2018. (Jae S. Lee/The Dallas Morning News via AP) Jae S. Lee/The Dallas Morning News via AP

Sung Hyun Park makes short work of LPGA Texas Classic

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Sung Hyun Park makes short work of LPGA Texas Classic

THE COLONY, Texas – It was short and sweet for Sung Hyun Park in Texas. The LPGA’s 2017 co-Player of the Year chipped in three times en route to victory at the 36-hole Volunteers of America LPGA Texas Classic.

Park, now a three-time winner on the LPGA, chipped in for eagle on the fourth hole Sunday, then used the same 58-degree wedge to hole out on the 18th, giving her the one-shot advantage needed to stop former Duke all-star Lindy Duncan, who didn’t realize until late that she was teeing off No. 10 on Sunday.

Mother Nature wreaked havoc on the event’s first year at Old American Golf Club, where a goat farm abuts the 18th and the media worked out of a vintage barn. It was a confusing week for everyone. Sunday felt like a Friday, and the saying “Can’t win it on the first day” didn’t apply.

“I was just as nervous as the U.S. Women’s Open,” said Park, who broke 70 for the first time in over a month, posting 65-66 to finish at 11-under 131.

The Texas Classic two-step won’t change the life of the winner, a well-paid superstar in South Korea who stalked LPGA fairways like a gunslinger. But for many on the leaderboard, the mad dash altered the trajectory of their seasons, perhaps even their careers. Jackie Stoelting, for example, had missed the cut in four of six events this season.

“To be honest, my hands were shaking this morning,” said Stoelting, a four-time winner on the Symetra Tour who played Division II golf at Florida Southern College. “(There) was a lot on the line for me.”

Two former Duke players, Duncan (finished second) and Yu Liu (finished third), posted career-bests, as did Aditi Ashok (T-6), Stoelting (T-8) and Celine Boutier (T-12). With the tour’s first reshuffle coming after this event, a number of players, such as Stoelting, greatly improved their playing schedules for 2018.

Duncan came out of last season straight-up angry about her performance. She’d had several highlights in 2017 and finished 82nd on the money list, but thought it wasn’t enough. Duncan used that frustration as motivation. At the Texas Classic, the six-time winner at Duke put her head down and birdied the last three holes to finish with a career-low 64. Duncan, who graduated in 2013, described the step from college golf to the LPGA as “night and day.”

“I had the most patience this week that I think I have had in a long time,” Duncan said. “And little things that normally bother me, didn’t. And so I’ve got to make sure that I keep that up, because you can’t out here, it’s just too tough.”

Earlier this season Park looked like she might put the hammer down in the desert at the ANA Inspiration when she tied a 36-hole scoring record with Pernilla Lindberg before faltering with a third-round 74.

The player nicknamed Tiger Woods flew through a nine-hole stretch in 7 under on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course and still left a few out there at day’s end. It was the first and only time all year she looked comfortable, said caddie David Jones.

The independent Park – she has no formal instructor – has missed two cuts in 2018 and hadn’t contended on Sunday until this week. She took last week off and focused on her short game, the same recipe that helped her win the U.S. Women’s Open last year at Donald Trump’s place. Park changed putters as well as her setup, using her mother’s keen eye for help.

Friends describe Park as private and simple. Her sense of humor is dry, and she looks all-business on the golf course.

Jones said last year his eyes were opened at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship after his boss had a particularly rotten round with much on the line.

“Her mom or sister arrived with the dog and the light went on like that,” he said, snapping his fingers. She had let the round go.

Park looked forward to returning to her dog, Ato, and sister for the next two weeks as she prepares to defend her Women’s Open title at Shoal Creek. The normally straight-faced Park smiled at the thought.

“I feel like I can finish out this season with a lot less pressure,” she said. “I’m pretty excited about that.” Gwk

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