Annie Park earns first LPGA win at ShopRite Classic

GALLOWAY, NJ - JUNE 10: Annie Park arrives at the 18th green the during the third and final round of the ShopRite LPGA Classic Presented by Acer on the Bay Course at Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club on June 10, 2018 in Galloway, New Jersey. (Photo by Michael Cohen/Getty Images) Michael Cohen/Getty Images

Annie Park earns first LPGA win at ShopRite Classic

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Annie Park earns first LPGA win at ShopRite Classic

Annie Park won everything as a kid. One year she literally went 14-for-14 in junior events. In college, Park, a New Yorker, started at USC in January of 2013 and swept the postseason, taking every award and major title on the table, including the NCAA Championship.

When she left college and turned professional in 2015, Park won three times in quick succession on the Symetra Tour to earn a battlefield promotion. While there’s no such thing as a sure thing in golf, winning at the next level seemed inevitable.

That day finally arrived at the ShopRite LPGA Classic, about three hours down the coast from her Levittown roots, home to Billy Joel and her parents’ chain of nail salons, Angel Tips.

Park, 23, started the year at No. 336 on the Category 20 Priority List. Partial status meant she had to Monday-qualify for events, which she did in San Francisco, parlaying the opportunity to the midway lead. That led to a reshuffle that ultimately put her in the winner’s circle in Galloway, N.J.

“I mean, it’s been a crazy first half of the year,” said Park, who closed with an 8-under 63 to finish one shot ahead of Sakura Yokomine at 16-under 197. Park became the fourth American to win on the LPGA in 2018. Prior to her victory this week, Park’s best finish on the LPGA was a tie for sixth at the 2016 ShopRite.

Park has battled back issues since her junior days. Flareups as a pro led to days when she couldn’t get out of bed in 2016. She has since learned to temper the pain through rehab and exercises.

The other thing standing between Park and domination: consistent putting.

Enter the long putter in January of 2018. On Sunday at the ShopRite, Park rolled in three consecutive birdies on Nos. 3-5, then drained a 60-foot bomb on the ninth hole for eagle.

“Yeah, so I actually struggled with my long putts coming into this event, so I saw Sean (Foley) and we worked on my swing, my short game, even my putting,” Park said. “I told him I had trouble with my lag putts. He helped me out a lot, and it worked this tournament.”

This week marked the first time Park’s brother-in-law had watched her at an LPGA event. Her older sister, who is pregnant, hadn’t seen her play in person since middle school. Mom, who used to caddie, was outside the ropes enjoying the experience. Dad was there too.

Park started out as a competitive dancer but switched to golf when she impressed a group of onlookers during her first trip to the range. By age 8 she was hitting 200 balls a day. It quickly grew to 500 balls. She ate in the car after school on her way to the range, and again on the way to the gym. Homework started around the time most kids were winding down for bed.

The fuel to her drive: collecting trophies. That part hasn’t changed.

“I can’t describe in words how I feel,” Park said. “It’s my first win out on tour. I mean, every win is very special, but just having my family out here, my friends supporting me, it’s just – all the fans, my friends back home, I would like to thank all of them.”

Another NCAA star, Leona Maguire, made a strong statement in her professional debut, finishing in a tie for 15th at the ShopRite. Former Stanford standout Mariah Stackhouse posted her first top-10 finish in an LPGA event, closing with a 68 to tie for seventh. Gwk

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