INCHEON (Yonhap News) ― Ahead of her last professional event, South Korean LPGA golfer Grace Park said Thursday she is looking forward to sharing her final memories on the links with home fans.
Park, whose Korean given name is Ji-eun, retired from the LPGA Tour in June of last year, but will briefly come out of retirement this week to play at the LPGA KEB·HanaBank Championship, which starts on Friday at the Sky72 Golf Club in Incheon, west of Seoul.
At a press conference at the golf club, Park, a six-time LPGA winner with one major, said she hadn’t had much time to prepare for the tournament, but will still try to enjoy herself.
“I hardly touched my golf clubs after I retired,” the 34-year-old said. “After it was decided I would come and play here, I played a few rounds. As an active pro, I was really caught up with my results. This time, I am out here to return the love and support my fans have given me over the years, and to share some good memories with them. My goal is to spend some meaningful time at such a special place.”
Park’s last LPGA event had been the 2012 Wegmans LPGA Championship, the second major of the year. She finished the tournament at 17-over par, a performance that she said was the most disappointing of her career.
“I’ve had my share of regrets, but that final tournament really sticks out for me,” Park said. “It would have been nice if I had played better, and I couldn’t do it.”
She is the 2004 champion of the CJ Nine Bridges Classic, the previous incarnation of this week’s tournament. That also happens to be Park’s last LPGA win.
“To this day, that 2004 tournament remains my most memorable event,” Park said. “But after this weekend, I think this year’s tournament will go down as my favorite.”
Park also enjoyed a stellar amateur career while attending Arizona State University. She is one of only four golfers to win both the U.S. Women’s Amateur and the NCAA individual championship.
For the first round, Park has been paired with fellow South Korean Pak Se-ri and U.S. veteran Cristie Kerr.
Park and Pak were part of the first generation of South Korean stars on the LPGA Tour in the late 1990s and the early 2000s. While the friendship between Park and Kerr goes back some two decades.
Pak, a World Golf Hall of Famer with 25 LPGA wins, said she regretted not having spent much time with Park outside the golf course.
“We were on the tour together for about 10 years, but I feel bad that we never had too much fun away from competitions because we were too focused on golf,” Pak said.
“Now that she’s retiring for good, I am going to miss being around her. She’s been a role model for everyone, always smiling and cheering up others. I think every shot and every hole will be really memorable tomorrow (in the first round).”
Kerr, a 15-time LPGA winner, recounted her memories of playing with Park when they were both teenagers.
“One of my earliest memories in playing the junior golf was playing in Arizona with Grace,” Kerr said. “We were walking together and playing practice rounds. We just wanted to talk about shopping. To be able to play alongside her and Se-ri in this tournament, it’s very special. I get to play with one of my best friends.”
Park said she hasn’t put much thought into her post-LPGA life.
“Over 20 years of playing golf, I never had much time off,” she said. “I got married last November, and I’d now like to enjoy being married and enjoy the life of a regular, 30-something woman, not a professional golfer. I just want to give myself some rest.”