The LPGA Tour wrapped up its season with the unique CME Group Titleholders at Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando, Florida. It was unique because of its qualifying system: each week, the top three players from each tournament were exempt into the Titleholders field. As the year rolled on, if the top three players in a tournament were already qualified for the Titleholders, they would take the next three who were not already qualified.
This was intended to put together a field of the best of the best; the players in the Titleholders were the ones who had played well in a current year tournament. And since each three came from one of the year’s tournaments, it was a way to get more exposure for the sponsors of those tournaments. And in a world where Yani Tseng won 11 tournaments for the year, it added ten players who played well and might otherwise not have gotten in. (This year’s selection system put together a field of 66 players.)
So for example, the winner of the inaugural Titleholders, Hee Young Park, came out of the Safeway Classic played at Pumpkin Ridge as the top qualifier. She finished 3rd by herself behind Suzann Pettersen and Na Yeon Choi who had qualified in the Avnet LPGA Classic and the HSBC Women’s Champions tournaments respectively. Paula Creamer finished 4th, but had also previously qualified in the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup. So Vicky Hurst and Ryann O’Toole who finished T5 became the second and third qualifiers from the Safeway.
Hee Young Park isn’t a household name because this is her first win. But it’s not like she came out of nowhere. She toiled away in a four-year apprenticeship on the Korean LPGA until she finally secured her LPGA Tour card in 2008. And that led to another four-year apprenticeship, finally culminating in this win at the end of eight long years.
It wasn’t because she couldn’t post a score; her career-low round of 63 came last year. But posting scores and learning how to “play” at the professional level are two different things. The people who can post a score come and go. But the people who can hold it together day after day in order to string three or four rounds together, those are people in the fraternity of professionals who “can play.”
Here, for example, are snippets from her victory interview that provides insights into some of the things she had to deal with in her win and her personal way of handling them.
Can you just take us through your day, the last 18 holes? When did you know that you were going to win this event?
Actually, you know what, I was worried about maybe No. 13, 14. That was a little early, but how can I do English, like automatically, you know, it was ‑‑ my body felt like it’s going to be close, like I can tell. Even I couldn’t see the leaderboard, but my feel and then that kind of stuff.
Back nine getting like nervous and then getting tight in my body, so my caddie said, just keep going, keep trying to play like first round, you’re on the tee first time each hole, and just keep doing the same thing, and then I say, okay. And then even No. 18, last putt, I just thought about this is first hole, first hole putt, like I just remind and then putt.
How good does it feel when you look at that leaderboard and see some of the names that you beat that have been so successful on the LPGA Tour? How good does that feel?
Yeah, I played with Paula [Creamer] and Yani [Tseng] and Sandra [Gal] this week. They are really, really fantastic players, and they are really, really strong, even mind golf, everything. But even this week I learned a lot to them. I think I’m very – have to win this week, too strong mind.
You bogeyed the fourth hole and then birdies on 5, 6 and 8. Can you talk about that stretch and how you did that?
Yeah, No. 4, par‑3, was difficult, difficult. And then I think too much thinking, like worry about after shot. So right after it, next hole, just think about my distance and then my – just trust my club and then just hit the shot. So it was pretty simple.
And I think that there’s another intangible that foreign players go through that we Americans don’t think about because we take being able to live in this country as the best of all possible living experiences. We don’t appreciate how lonely it can be.
I really, really missing my home friends, actually too much – on the Tour a lot of friends, but like my old best friends still live in Korea. And you know different time, different time Korea to here, so really difficult even calling, so I really, really missing my old friends.
And my family, we are calling on Skype on the computer to say hi. So probably I’m very missing my friends.
So now that we have another first-time winner on the Tour that we actually now know something about, it will be very interesting to see what becomes of her. Will she win again? Will she now become a fixture at the top of the leaderboards?
Only time will tell, but this win, where she won by two strokes over the biggest names on Tour, makes it more likely that she will.