Park’s relaxed demeanor -- indeed, a Zen-like nonchalance -- contrasts starkly with the aggressively competitive nature of Korea’s hyper-paced society. Young people here could be the most stressed out in the world.
“They should learn how to enjoy the game before they try to play well; try to enjoy the game first, before turning professional,” she said after the first round at the Mission Hills Haikou resort. “This is all you will do for a while. If you are not enjoying the game you will not enjoy yourself.”
Park’s words were particularly pointed as the world observed International Women’s Day on Friday, a celebration for women’s economic, political and social achievements, including in sports. Park led 108 professional women golfers competing here at the end of Day 2.
Park is singular in her achievements as an athlete. She went pro in the United States in 2006, joined the LPGA in 2007 and won the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open at the age of 19, the youngest ever to clinch the world’s most prestigious tournament.
Although a spry 26 years of age, she is a relative veteran of the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
Park is certainly a powerful force in women’s golf, but she does not see the popularity of LPGA matching men’s anytime soon.
“In America it will be difficult to see a change. Men have more tournaments and the purses are bigger. It will tough to see women’s golf become more popular than men’s.”
But in Asia, women appear to have a shot to level the playing field.
“It is a different scenario when it comes to Asia. So, it is half and half. In some countries they like to see women’s golf and in other countries, they like to see men’s.”
Her break-out year was in 2008, in which she played 26 LPGA tournaments earning over $1 million dollars, 8th in the money list ranking. Last year was Park’s biggest year, however, raking in over $2 million, putting her No. 1 on the money list ranking.
“Women’s golf in Asia is very popular and everyone loves to watch women’s golf,” she said. “There are always new players coming up, and changes with every new generation of girl and women players. The field is getting stronger and stronger. Women’s golf is very big in Korea, and it is getting bigger and bigger.”
On balancing work and relationships, she said it is no problem because her fiancé is long-time boyfriend and KPGA pro golfer Nam Ki-hyub, making it easier to balance a grueling tour schedule with her personal life.
“He has been accompanying me on all the tournaments the past two years. It is very helpful,” Park said. “He’s my swing coach as well.” But no specific date when they will tie the knot.
“It is very good to have someone at your side when you are traveling all the time and have to compete every week,” she said.
By Philip Iglauer, Korea Herald Correspondent